by Reemus Fernando
With Sri Lanka Athletics advancing all Olympic targeted events by a day to conclude the first stage of the 99th National Athletics Championship before travel restrictions come to effect today we are taking a look at some of country’s top ranked athletes’ current positions in the ‘Road to Olympics Rankings’ and the monumental task they have at hand if they are to meet qualifying standards for the Tokyo event.
To earn direct qualification for the quadrennial event almost all local aspirants have to do better than the standard of the current national record of their respective disciplines at today’s meet as they are not likely to get another opportunity before the deadline closes.
To make it simple take the case of Sumeda Ranasinghe. The Rio Olympic participant is currently ranked 41st in the ‘Road to Olympics Rankings’ maintained by World Athletics. Only 32 athletes will be selected for the Tokyo event, 21 from direct qualifying standards and 11 from world ranking positions. From German champion Johannes Vetter’s massive 94.2 metres throw to Belarus thrower Aliaksei Katkavets’ 85.10 metres, 21 athletes have produced throws that earn them direct qualification, making it a battle among the rest for the remaining 11 positions according to world rankings. At the end of 2020(December) Ranasinghe was ranked 30th in the world but unfortunately his ranking dropped as he could not compete at the First Selection Trial due to an injury. He did not get any international competitions either. In the positive side he has recovered from the injury and will be eager to produce his best. To be in the safe side and earn a direct qualification Sumeda needs to better his national record by nearly two metres. Sumeda’s Sri Lanka record which he established to qualify for the Rio Olympics has remained unshaken since 2015. He has his training partner Sampath Ranasinghe and former national record holder Waruna Lakshan joining him in the fray.
The Army athlete is probably the closest to an Olympic berth as she is ranked 34th in the ‘Road to Olympics Rankings’. With 45 athletes selected for women’s 3,000 metre steeplechase she is still within the required ranking position. But her rivals are likely to get more opportunities to better their rankings. To be in the safe side she has to produce a timing better than that of her Sri Lanka record. While her record is nine minutes and 46.76 seconds, the direct entry standard is nearly 17 seconds faster. Some 19 athletes have already reached qualifying standards around the world and she will be wondering as to how she could maintain the current ranking by only competing at today’s meet. A technical mistake from the part of the organizers made her clear higher barriers at the last meet held at the Sugathadasa Stadium. She could still clock 9:57.81 seconds. Don’t be surprised if she measures the height of barriers before her discipline starts today.
Awesome contest in the women’s 800 metres
Dilshi Kumarasinghe’s rise has made the women’s 800 metres one of the most look forward to events in the athletics arena. Kumarasinghe won the national title at the last National Championship before also taking under her name the national record when she clocked 2:02.52 seconds at the Selection Trial held recently. Despite making vast strides turning tables on Nimali Liyanarachchi and Gayanthika Abeyratne Kumarasinghe is still trailing behind the former champions in the world rankings due to lack of competitions. Though she has produced the second fastest time in Asia this year she is ranked fifth in the region behind Bahrain’s Nelly Jepkosgei, China’s Chunyu Wang and her two Sri Lankan counterparts. 48 athletes- 24 by entry standards and 24 according to world rankings – will be selected for the women’s 800 metres. Kumarasinghe needs to clock faster than 1:59.50 seconds if she is to obtain a direct qualification as 24 athletes have already clocked the qualifying standard.
Women’s javelin throw has a direct qualifying standard of 64 metres which is three metres further than the current Sri Lanka record held by Olympian Nadeeka Lakmali. Lakmali is currently ranked 53rd in the ‘Road to Olympics Ranks of World Athletics. It will be a herculean task for both Lakmali and Dilhani Lekamge as they compete to improve their rankings.
Long jumpers too have a huge ask. After Amila Jayasiri cleared 8.15 metres in 2016 no other has challenged the national record. The direct Olympic qualifying standard is 8.22 metres which 21 athletes around the globe have already accomplished. Jumpers have to improve these standards or their world rankings drastically at this meet if they are to realize their dream of qualifying for the Games.
High jumper Ushan Thivanka who is based in USA and 100 metres sprinter Yupun Abeykoon who is based in Italy are also striving for qualifying standards and have improved their own national records in a bid to improve their world rankings. They will be competing in meets in USA and Europe with the hope of achieving qualifying standards.
Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony
by Reemus Fernando
When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.
It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.
A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline. Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.
Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.
Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.
Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.
Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.
Sri Lanka on course for consolation win
Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.
By Rex Clementine
Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227. Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.
Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.
Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage.
Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.
Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs.
Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.
Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.
Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.
Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.
Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.
A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.
Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics
Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII
by Reemus Fernando
The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.
“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.
Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.”
“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.
Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.
After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.
Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”
However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.
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