Expectations high as SL commence campaign



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Nimali Liyanarachchi and her coach Sujith Abeysekara during training.


The 23rd Asian Athletics Championship will start at the Khalifa International Stadium on Sunday.


Reemus Fernando
reporting from Doha Qatar


Expectations are high when team captain Nimali Liyanarachchi enters the arena to defend her women’s 800 metres title on the opening day of the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships here in Doha Qatar today.


The athletes from Sooriyawewa, Liyanarachchi and her closest rival and last edition’s silver medalist Gayanthika Abeyratne will kick start Sri Lanka’s campaign when they run in the 800 metres heats in the morning.


Sprinter Himasha Eshan, 400 metres specialists Nadeesha Ramanayake and Ajith Premakumara, 800 metres runner Rusiru Chathuranga and triple jumper Shreshan Dananjaya are the other aspirants seen in action on day one at the Khalifa International Stadium which boasts of an air conditioning system capable of maintaining a temperature of 26 degrees Celsius in the playing area.


Apart from competing for medals, athletes aspiring to return to the same venue in five months’ time for the World Championships will also strive to achieve tough qualifying standards set for the IAAF’s flagship event.


Liyanarachchi and Gayanthika Abeyratne are ranked among the top contenders in the women’s category for 800 metres, while Rusiru Chathuranga has a battle against top Qatari contenders and runners from Japan and India in the corresponding men’s event.


The day will be crucial for Nadeesha Ramanayake as both the women’s 400 metres heats and the final are scheduled for day one. The athlete with a seasonal best of 53.30 seconds will be pitted against Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser and India’s star sprinter and Junior World Champion Hima Das in the most likely case of earning a final berth.


Ajith Premakumara probably has the toughest battle as he tries to make country’s presence felt in a discipline where Sri Lanka once held the record. He is filling a huge gap made vacant by the absence of Asian Junior Champion Aruna Dharshana (due to injury) and Kalinga Kumarage (battling a doping suspension) with whom he won a silver medal in the 4x400 metres relay at the last edition.


Sprinter Himasha Eshan is probably the best prepared Sri Lankan athlete competing on day one. The 100 metres National record holder arrived here with his coach a week before to get acclimatize to conditions and is eager to lower the national record. His seasonal best of 10.22 seconds stands as the fourth fastest time in the Asian region this season but the competition is expected to be tougher than it looks on paper.


Dananjaya who was the other athlete to establish a national record during the recently held selection trials will compete in the men’s triple jump qualifying rounds. His impressive 16.71 metres feat is ranked third in Asia this season.


This is the first time in many years that Sri Lanka has a defending champion in a discipline. Sri Lanka won one gold and four silver medals at the last edition. The Athletics Association of Sri Lanka is expecting better results this time.  


The four-day event which brings together Asia’s best will kick off a season of athletics championships in Qatar with the Diamond League and the IAAF World Championships happening at the same venue within a few months.


 


 


 


 


Schedule of Events for Sri Lankan athletes


11.00am – 800M Women Round 01 – Nimali Liyanarachchi, Gayanthika Abeyratne


11.15am – 800M Men round 01- Rusiru Chathuranga


11.30am – Triple Jump Men Qualification –Greshan Dhananjaya


11.50am – 400M Round 01 –Nadeesha Ramanayake


12.05am – 400M Round 01 – Ajith Premakumara


Afternoon


8.56pm -100M Men round 01- Himasha Eashan


9.40pm – 400m M Semi Final – Ajith Premakumara (if selected)


9.58pm – 400M Women Final- Nadeesha Ramanayake (if selected)


10.52pm – 800M Semi Final – Rusiru Chathuranga (if selected)


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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