Sugath commends SL Junior Asian team


Aruna Dharshana, whose sprinting resembles that of Olympian Thilakaratne, established a new meet record in winning the 400 metres.

by Reemus Fernando

Olympian and Sri Lanka record holder in the men’s 400 metres, Sugath Thilakaratne credited country’s

not so popular school coaches for the remarkable performances of the junior team at the 18th Asian Junior Athletics Championship and opined that the priority should be given to look after the medal winning athletes.

Country’s junior team, led from front by Weera Keppetipola MV, Akuramboda athlete Aruna Dharshana won nine medals including three golds and four silvers, the most in the history by a Sri Lankan team at these championships concluded in Gifu, Japan on Sunday.

Dharshana coached by Asanka Rajakaruna won the 400 metres gold and joined Pabasara Niku, Ravishka Indrajith and Pasindu Kodikara to win the 4x400 metres gold. The latter was also the winner of the silver in the 400 metres.

While Wasanthi Marisstella of Kuliyapitiya Central won the other gold in the 3,000 metres steeplechase, Swarnamali Balika, Kandy sprinter Amasha de Silva coached by Sujeewa Weerakkody won silver medals in the women’s 100 metres and the 200 metres.

Ratnayake Central runner Dilshi Kumarasinghe coached by Susantha Fernando won a silver and a bronze. She won silver in the 400 metres and clinched a bronze in the 800 metres with a new Sri Lanka junior record.

Kumarasinghe, de Silva, Romeshi Attidiya and Sachini Divyanjalee joined to win the other bronze medal in the 4x400 metres.

Sri Lanka finished in the creditable fifth place in the medals table and Aruna Dharshana, whose sprinting resembles that of Olympian Thilakaratne, established a new meet record in winning the 400 metres.

"The junior athletes have done remarkably well. They have given a lesson for senior athletes. Senior athletes some times grumble when there is little rest between the flight and the competition. These athletes did not give excuses. They did their best despite competing on the very next day after landing in Japan. Athletes and their school coaches should be commended for a job well done," said Thilakaratne, who is also the immediate past president of the Sri Lanka Athletics Association.

"Country’s athletics survive thanks to dedicated school coaches and determined athletes. They should be looked after well," Thilakaratne said in an interview with The Island.

There had been a couple of occasions in the past when similar sentiments had been expressed by veterans when athletes did well at Junior Asian Championships. But hardly anything positive has happened. In fact Sri Lanka won two golds when the country hosted the event in 2012 but almost all local medal winners of that championship have either given up athletics or have not lived up to the promise shown.

There is a school of opinion that school coaches contribute to the failure of athletes at senior level by peaking them at junior level.

Thilakaratne, who had been trained right throughout by his school coach Anura Bandara, said that there are very many genuine school coaches who are concerned over their junior athletes and there are also few coaches who are result oriented and their concern was on earning money. "They say that there are school coaches who are ruining athletes’ careers by peaking at junior level. But the majority of school coaches and particularly the coaches of these athletes are genuine people. The athletes will only progress under these coaches. What we should do is to help these coaches and athletes," said Thilakaratne.

Dharshana’s 45.79 seconds performance currently ranks the best feat of the distance by current athletes at any level. And it is also the best performance by a Sri Lankan athlete over the distance in as many as ten years.

Commenting on Dharshana’s record breaking feat Thilakaratne had this to say.

"I had not run that fast when I was 19. He is an amazing athlete. Credit should go to the athlete and his coach. I followed him since 2015 and I have often spoken to his coach. Future is bright if he is looked after well. I was contacted over the phone by Rohan Pradeep when Dharshana won the gold. He too was fascinated. We talked about how we could help him and after a long time we had something positive to talk about in athletics. Each time we see the images of him running you can see the determination in his face. Its amazing."

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