A Bronze Medal In Tokyo Is Matthew Torres’ Motivation To Keep Pushing
by Karen Price
Matthew Torres dives into the pool at the Tokyo Paralympics. (Photo: Mark Reis)
Matthew Torres had confidence going into the men’s 400-meter freestyle S8 final at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Confidence that comes not only with training and preparation but also from being the top seed coming out of the prelims. He knew that if he swam just a little stronger in the final and executed his race plan, he’d be successful.
But the race didn’t go quite as he hoped. Torres is now a Paralympic bronze medalist, and while he’s now proud of that fact he’s also using it as motivation for what comes next.
“Now I recognize that being a bronze medalist is a huge accomplishment and definitely something I’m proud of myself for, but at the same time I know I can do better,” said the 20-year-old from Ansonia, Connecticut.
The postponement of the Paralympics forced everyone to change plans, including Torres. When the pandemic hit, he was a freshman at Fairfield University in Connecticut. With so much uncertainty about whether or not the school’s swim team would compete in 2020-21 and how he would train for Tokyo in 2021, he switched to online classes and moved to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although he was born with amniotic band syndrome and is missing half his right leg, Torres had always swam with able-bodied athletes.
“This was the first time that I trained for such a long period with other Paralympic teammates,” he said. “It was unique, it was different and I’m really grateful I was able to do that.”
Another bonus from his extended time in Colorado Springs was that he got even closer with teammate, friend, and “big brother” Robert Griswold, a 2016 Paralympian who was also the 2019 world silver medalist in the 400-freestyle.
Griswold also swam the 400 free final in Tokyo, finishing fifth, while also earning two gold medals in other events.
“I remember during the race I felt strong going out,” Torres said. “I saw (the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Andrei) Nikolaev next to me and expected him to be in front of me the first 150 meters. So mid-race I saw that and I remained calm.”
But 300 meters in, Nikolaev still had a good lead on Torres, and he started to get nervous. At about 325 meters, he felt like he was slowing down and getting tired. He wasn’t catching Nikolaev, and now he could feel Italian swimmer Alberto Amodeo catching up.
“Being the No. 1 seed and suddenly struggling to maintain second place, I started panicking a little,” Torres said. “I basically told myself I had to give it everything I had the last 50 and I just did that. I’m glad I was able to hang on the last 25 and get third, but I remember looking up at the scoreboard, and Robert came in a few seconds after me on my other side, and I just looked at him and asked, ‘What just happened?’”
Although Torres’ race didn’t go as he’d hoped, by the time the medal ceremony took place his disappointment was tempered by the understanding that being third in the world was not a bad place to be.
Yet it still stung just enough that his “break” from the pool after returning home lasted only four or five days.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to have much rest after the Games because of classes, and then in terms of actual training I just wanted to keep going,” Torres said. “I just didn’t see a need for slowing down or stopping for a long period of time. World championships is just a few months away, at the beginning of June next year, and I know that I need to be even more prepared than I was for Tokyo if I want to be in the top two.”
Happy to be back on campus taking in-person classes this year, Torres is also happy to be back with his Fairfield swim team. There’s a whole new batch of athletes and with a 2-1 start to the season Torres hopes they’ll keep it up and make a good showing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
A finance major, Torres is on track to graduate in 2023 and plans to make his second trip to the Paralympics in 2024, and this time win gold.
“I’ve accepted that I gave it everything I had and I don’t think I could have gone faster if I tried,” he said of Tokyo. “Despite the confidence, maybe I set expectations a little too high on myself. But since then I’ve come to terms with it, for the most part, and realize I just have to keep training and working hard and hopefully things will go a little better in Paris.”