Juan Matute Guimón eyes Paris 2024 equestrian competition after missing Tokyo as incredible comeback from coma continues

The Spanish dressage rider suffered a brain bleed in 2020 but amazingly recovered, and competed at the 2022 FEI World Cup Final. Despite missing selection for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021, Matute has set his sights on a new aim: Paris 2024.

By ZK Goh
Picture by ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

The dream was over for Juan Matute Guimón, or so it seemed.

After miraculously surviving a bleed on the brain, which kept him in a coma in hospital for 25 days in May 2020, the equestrian rider had somehow made it back to the top of his sport and was in contention for a spot on Spain's Olympic team for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

Then came the call – the dressage rider had not made the final cut and would not be part of the five-strong Spanish squad headed to Japan.

Some athletes might have taken the setback as final and called it quits. But not Matute; not after what he'd been through.

Spaniard's initial comeback from brain bleed

Matute's incredible story has been well-documented, including on Olympics.com ahead of Tokyo 2020.

The then-22-year-old was out riding his horse Quantico with his father, three-time Olympian Juan senior, when he felt faint.

He dismounted, sat on the ground, and passed out – only to reawaken 25 days later after surgery to relieve pressure in his brain.

Somehow, he suffered very few ill-effects physically. Speaking recently to equestrian's governing body the FEI, Matute confirmed: "After all the physio and training I have no after-effects, I feel better than ever."

It meant he was back in the saddle three months after his health scare, before competing at the National Dressage Championships that same October.

"I wanted to prove a point to myself and to the world that when you set a goal and have the ambition and determination then you can make it happen," he told the FEI.

All of that to chase his goal of making the Spanish team. As he explained to the Tokyo 2020 website later that year: "Sport has helped me in a way that is difficult to explain. The ability to overcome difficulties and the strength of chasing your dreams and goal - the Olympics - give you motivation, a capacity to go further, one step further.

"And that's a blessing because all of us need motivation to move forward from any situation. And that mentality, without a doubt, is something that sport has given me after the stroke."

Destination: Paris 2024

Ultimately, Matute's dream was dashed when he failed to make the cut. But that stumbling block wouldn't stand in his way. Matute told the FEI that the very next day, he had already changed his target.

Just par for the course for Juan junior, who has always been inspired by his Olympian father, who competed at Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996.

"Ever since I left hospital I said I wanted to make it to the Tokyo Olympic team, that was the dream," Matute junior said.

"It has always been my dream to be an Olympian like my father. I want to inherit my father’s Olympic Spanish flag on his tailcoat; that has been the goal and the motivation."

Only natural, then, that Tokyo 2020 disappointment has transformed into a single-minded goal to make it to the next Games in the French capital in two years' time.

"I set goals, I've always been driven by goals," he said.

"Even though the first day I was told I wouldn't make the team for Tokyo it was heartbreaking, the following morning I called my dad and said 'you know I don't care, the next goal will be Paris 2024'."

Juan Matute Guimón back to international competition

Since then, Matute has gone from strength to strength. The young rider, who represented Spain at the 2018 World Equestrian Games where the country secured its Tokyo 2020 berths, made his international comeback at a Grand Prix event in Germany in April 2021.

Then, a month later, he won a Grand Prix Freestyle event in Munich with a score of 76.400 per cent while riding Quantico, the same horse he was on when he collapsed.

A series of strong World Cup performances followed in the 2021/22 season, as he finished eighth in Lyon, third in front of his home crowd in Madrid, and second in Florida in each of the three Grand Prix Freestyle events. (He would also win a four-star Grand Prix Freestyle in Florida with the highest score he received since his medical emergency, scoring 80.190 per cent.)

That in turn qualified him for this month's Dressage World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany, where he finished 13th in the Short Grand Prix and 15th in the Grand Prix Freestyle.

"It's very, very emotional to come back to the international scene. This is the biggest show I've done in my career other than the World Equestrian Games in 2018," he told FEI.

"It is proof that I have overcome obstacles and proof that if you work hard and you have a dream and chase it that it can become a reality."

Juan Matute at the FEI World Cup stop in Madrid in 2021
Picture by ©FEI/Stefano Grasso

Recovery and long-term goals for Matute

Having reached his first World Cup Final, Matute knows he is well on the path to his ultimate aim of representing Spain at Paris 2024.

Understandably, there were times when he wasn't sure if he would return to elite sport – and one of the very few lingering side effects were a weakened memory.

"Not being able to remember things, that's been tough, for my type of personality particularly," Matute admitted. "I've always been a perfectionist and I'm very ambitious, but with this challenge I was facing it was like a roller-coaster… Many moments of doubts about whether I would recover and return to be myself."

He has more than recovered and returned to being himself – he's now in competitions featuring the world's top riders.

On the road to Paris, it's something Matute has in mind – that he can now go head-to-head with the best of the best, like World Cup Final champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl.

"I'd love to fight for a top-place finish at the World Cup Final, the Olympic Games, the European Championships; at all the major Championships," he said.

And he'll do it all with his trusty companion Quantico and his other horses by his side.

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