Qualifying for the 16th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) 2022 in the 100m and 200m freestyle, FINA caught up with the 25-year-old from Baracoa following her 4:11.66 her 400m heat on the opening morning session of the short course championships. Finishing 18th among the women’s 400m freestyle competitors, Matos missed making the final by 9.36 seconds. But the freestyle specialist will be back in action on Wednesday in the 100m free before finishing her world short course campaign on Sunday in the 200m freestyle.  

Elisbet, how’d you feel about today’s performance? 

The 400m freestyle is always tough. I felt I swam in the right way but I could have put a little more energy into the last 50m. I felt I had a little bit of energy left after the race. I went 4:11.66 today, but it wasn’t my fastest time. I swam a 4:08.86 at the FINA Swimming World Cup event in Japan in 2018.

Where are you training these days? 

Image Source: The calm before the storm; Elisbet readies herself before the 400m freestyle heat on Day 1 in Melbourne

Although I grew up swimming in Cuba, I moved this year to Thailand just a few weeks after the FINA World Championships Budapest 2022 to train with Coach Alexander Tikhonov out of the FINA Training Centre in Phuket, Thailand.

What’s it like in Phuket? 

Everything is really different from my training in Cuba. I am used to training a lot in Cuba. In Thailand, I have a new coach and new training partners. It’s a really diverse group, which I really like. This has been a huge adjustment for me. 

I feel that I am one of the better swimmers and one of the hardest workers in our training group. I have especially enjoyed training with a new teammate who is from Mongolia (Enkhkhuslen Batbayar); she makes for great competition for both of us.

Melbourne isn’t your first rodeo. You come into this short course world champs with some major event experience. 

My first major event was the FINA World Championships in 2013 in Barcelona when I was 15 years old. 

My all-time favourite event and where I enjoyed one of my best results was the FINA Swimming World Cup 2018 in Singapore. I won the bronze medal there in the 800m freestyle. 

In previous competitions, I won bronze at the Central American Games in Veracruz, Mexico in 2014 and a silver medal in 2018 in Barranquilla, Colombia. 

If I work really hard, perhaps it might be possible to win a gold medal at the 2023 Central American Games – or maybe a medal at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile next fall. 

I would really like to swim in the finals at the FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan next summer. To do this, I know I would need to swim 1:53 or 1:54 in the 200m free. 

Another goal of mine is to compete at my third Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, but this will be after some challenging competitions for me in the new year. I will race at the Central American Games and also at the Pan American Games in 2023. I have set challenging goals for myself at both of these competitions. I know that Cuba has set some high expectations for me and for our country at both of these competitions. 

When you’re not dreaming big and training hard, what might we find you doing? 

When I watch sports on television, I enjoy viewing artistic swimming and gymnastics in addition to swimming and, recently, the FIFA World Cup. 

Also, I’m really into music. My favourite singer is Antonio “Romeo” Santos who is the lead singer of the group Aventura. 

Within sports, who do you look up to? 

I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that my favourite athlete is a swimmer, and who else but Michael Phelps?

Tell us a little bit more about your family.

I am the baby of my family, with two older sisters and two older brothers. My mother works at a school in Cuba and my father Eugenio is a social worker and travels often to France. In Cuba, I spoke only Spanish but I am learning a little bit of English as well now. 

As a recent FINA Scholarship holder, how have you found this extra bit of support and structure? 

The FINA Scholarship will certainly help me to achieve even higher goals in the future. I am 25 years old and I am finishing my studies in Physical Education. It is my goal to become a swim coach after my swimming career. I sometimes think about how I would coach myself. I know that I have learned a great deal from my home coach in Cuba who is super intense and also from my new coach who is a bit more relaxed in the program in Thailand. My coaching profile would be a blend of the strategies and the styles of each of my previous coaches and I would hope to offer something that would include the best of each.

More About the FINA Scholarship Programme

Understanding that contributing to athletes’ preparation for their participation at international competitions is crucial to both the progress of the athletes and to the future of the National teams, FINA offers the opportunity to obtain financial and technical assistance for one potential elite athlete per National Federation each year.

Contributing: Gregory Eggert