Featured Image: Emmanuel Matadi (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images).
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are around the corner and athletes everywhere are pushing themselves to qualify. Meanwhile, U.S. based Liberian sprinter Emmanuel Matadi, has already met that goal. Matadi successfully ran 10.01 seconds in the 100 meters race, at the Star Athletics Sprint Series, on Saturday July 6. His time grants him a returning spot on Liberia’s Olympic Team. It also makes him the first athlete to qualify for Liberia’s Tokyo 2020 squad.
Twenty-eight-years-old Matadi spoke with Go Team Liberia and shared details about his journey as a professional athlete.
Go Team Liberia: How do you prepare for these major competitions?
Emmanuel Matadi: For me, the major thing is staying consistent in my workouts. [I] don’t do nothing different, even though it’s a big championship. Whatever I’m doing been working, so my major thing is not to psych myself out and change things up. At the end of the day, it’s still a meet, regardless of the title.
GTL: OK. What have you consistently been doing to prepare?
Matadi: My program, right now, the biggest thing is resting, as far as doing the hard workouts. For example, Monday I have a hard work out. So, I might follow up the next day with a little more of a lighter work out and the day after that rest— then come back and hit it again and then rest on that Friday. I only train really hard twice a week and the rest are just simple workouts. So, the biggest thing in the program is rest…especially when you get older. You have to be aware of that and train smarter.
GTL: You’re still young, but I get it. When did you start running track?
Matadi: Let’s see. I started, my Junior year in high school or Sophomore year in high school.
GTL: What made you get involved with track?
Matadi: I used to play football. I played a lot of sports, actually. At first, I really didn’t want to run because I didn’t see the point of just running, but I fell in love with it because of the competition part. It’s really competitive because it’s literally just you out there with no extras. With other sports you might have a ball or a bat or whatever else, but [track] is literally just you and your body against everybody else. So, that’s why I fell in love.
GTL: How did you fall into track from football?
Matadi: I got hurt in football, actually. And around that time I was just getting into track. I had a back injury, so instead of risking it, I just left football alone and kept running. And I was good at it, so I kept running and it eventually turned into something.
GTL: As a professional athlete what is your motivation and what do you hope to accomplish in your career?
Matadi: The biggest thing that keeps me going is to show a way for other Liberians and the ones coming up that it’s possible to set out to do something and achieve it. Even though it might be out the norm or hasn’t been done before. Also, on a wider scale, as far as my career right now, track’s a really social sport. What I’m taking from it, is all the network and connections I’ve been making to carry on after I’m done running. Because after I’m done running, I’m getting more into the business side of things.
GTL: What does it mean to you, to be able to represent Liberia on an international scale?
Matadi: It represents hope and it represents change for the future. I think that Liberia is trying to grow and —slowly but surely— we are getting better. I feel like, for me to represent us on an international stage, it shows that we are getting better. It shows that we have the talent and ability to compete with other countries. I think I’m just a representation of that. So, When you [step back] and look at us as a whole…we all can be one of the best doctors in the world, best athletes, the best teachers or whatever it is we’re setting out to do. I think, right now…I’ve shown that we’re able to do that on a world stage.
GTL: We have a lot of professional Liberian athletes around the world. Are there any whose career you look up to?
Matadi: Ideally, I would say our president [George Weah] because he was able to transform his career into being the president…I have my sights, not necessarily [on] politics, but I have my sights set on the transitioning stage and to be able to make a change in Liberia.
GTL: Who has influenced your career the most?
Matadi: It would have to be my parents — my mom and my dad. Even at times when I wasn’t doing so well, they’re there. When I’m doing well, they’re there. So, from the start, I’d have to say my parents.
GTL: How have your parents supported your track career?
Matadi: Especially in the beginning, financially in the beginning it was hard. In high school, my parents didn’t miss one meet. They didn’t miss one track meet ever. Then in college —every race I do— they’d ask for the races. Even though, at first, they didn’t really understand the sport, but they learned it. So, I gotta respect them for that. Even now, when my races are on t.v. they make sure they tune into everything.
GTL: Rio 2016 was your first Olympics. How has being an Olympian impacted your life and career?
Matadi: The biggest thing, is with that “Olympian” title, it allows me to speak on a platform I maybe wouldn’t have if I didn’t go to the Olympics… Again, this goes back to the business side of things. That impacted my life because now, it allowed me to do things outside of sports and people are willing to hear my input or my ideas. That’s the biggest shift for me.
GTL: A lot of young Liberian athletes ask us how to represent Liberia and where to begin. What message do you have for young Liberian athletes around the world?
Matadi: Be resilient…because it’s not gonna be easy, but that comes with anything that’s worth it. The biggest thing is you gotta be resilient because the most resilient will always thrive. There might be tons of people that might be a little more talented than you or better than you, but the way you elevate is by consistently going at it, nonstop with that hunger. A lot of people get tired of trying, but as long as you don’t get tired of trying, eventually something is gonna happen for you.
GTL: To end things on a fun note, what is your favorite Liberian dish and your favorite thing about Liberia?
Matadi: My favorite is Cassava Leaf and my favorite thing about Liberia is the people really. Because even though we have hard times, we still have fun, we still enjoy ourselves. I think Liberians are really fun people.
GTL will feature each member of the 2020 Team, as they qualify. Join us in wishing Matadi the best, as he prepares to represent Liberia at the 2019 Athletics World Championship and Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Note: Interview edited for brevity.