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More barriers ahead for hurdler Dharshana

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by Reemus Fernando

In the Under 20 age category, athletes of only four countries in Asia have run the men’s 400 metres hurdles under 52 seconds, this year. One of them is a Sri Lankan. Dhanuka Dharshana, who is only 18 years old, has been the hurdler to beat during the last two years in his age category in Sri Lanka. In April, the athlete trained by reputed coach Anura Bandara turned the tables on his senior counterparts to emerge the national champion in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the Centenary National Athletics Championships.

One of the first Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the World Junior Athletics Championships to be held in Cali, Colombia in August, Dharshana is the most consistent performer in the men’s category among the Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the event. However, like the few junior athletes who showed potential to excel in the future in the pet event of Olympic Medalist Duncan White during the last two decades, will Dharshana find track and field not so exciting to pursue after leaving school?

“It is incumbent upon us to motivate our athletes to remain in the sport. But how can you do so when they do not get the opportunity they deserve. Participation in World Junior Championship is something that young athletes cherish. It is a huge learning opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes and will motivate them to remain in the sport,” said Dharshana’s coach Bandara.

Like Dharshana many others who reached qualifying standards for the World Junior event remain uncertain about the prospect of competing in Cali due to the financial constraints the country is currently facing though Sri Lanka Athletics has sent the names of seven out of the nine athletes who reached qualifying standards for the World event for the Sports Ministry approval and financial assistance. The Ministry has given only the approval and their participation will heavily depend on Sri Lanka Athletics’ ability to find much-needed funds for the costly trip.

Dharshana’s pet event, the 400 metres hurdles is the discipline that has won the highest number of medals for Sri Lanka at the junior Asian level during the last decade though a vast majority of the athletes who won those medals did not pursue track and field after leaving school. The most prominent female hurdler to emerge during the last one and half decades also came from Dharshana’s school, Ambagamuwa Central and was trained by Anura Bandara. Yamani Dulanjali won the first Asian Youth Championship hurdles gold medal in 2015, held the Under 20 Junior National Championship 400 m hurdles record until this year. With impressive performances as a junior, she was expected to excel at the senior level as well. Hailing from a not-so-well-to-do family she instead took up a teaching job.

Kaushalya Madushani, another 400 metres hurdler, who won junior Asian international medals, joined Sri Lanka Army, the final refuge for many a future prospect, after leaving school. She was yet to reach her full potential when she died a couple of months ago; it is alleged she took her own life.

Maris Stella College hurdler, Uditha Chandrasena, was yet another bright prospect to have excelled in the 400 metres hurdles at the junior level. He too gave up athletics after leaving school.

Although Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of hurdlers in the calibre of Dhanuka Dharshana at the junior level there had been no system to nurture them and make them stick to track and field.

Dharshana, who too is hailing from an ordinary family, has received the support of Olympian and Asian Games Gold Medalist Sugath Thilakaratne, the most famous product of his coach, Anura Bandara. He has also received the support of the school’s PTIs Indika Prasad and Amali Abeytunga and another benefactor whom he identified only as Nayana. But pursuing track and field as a senior athlete is an uphill task which requires more funding.

Ambagamuwa Central, where Dharshana learnt his ABC of athletics, has reaped the benefits of Bandara’s coaching with the school winning podium places at junior competitions every year. And, every year Bandara faces a dilemma as his trainees leaving the school have not found the right platform to launch a career in athletics.

With the junior athletes’ participation at the forthcoming World Junior Championships remaining uncertain to date, the coaches like Bandara will find it even harder to persuade athletes to remain in track and field.



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All Seeded players through to semis

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P & S Sri Lanka Junior Open Golf Championship

The P&S Sri Lanka Junior Golf Match-play championship, sponsored by P&S Bakers group, entered the knock-out stage, with the quarter-final matches worked off with the seeded players moving through comfortably bar the thrilling cliff-hanger match between Jacob Norton Seeded 3 in the Silver Division and Varun Fernando (6th Seed) who fought all the way to take the match to the 20th hole, where Jacob prevailed.

Jacob Norton will meet second-seeded H.D. Adithya Weerasinghe (A’pura) who beat T. Deshan 6 & 4 comfortably. The top-seeded Reshan Algama beat Kaiyan Johnpillai convincingly 7 & 6, and will face fifth-seeded Jevahn Sathasivam who defeated fourth Seeded Keshav Algama with an easy 7 & 6 victory.

In the Gold Division, second-seeded Yannik Kumara withdrew after the qualifying round as he was scheduled to play in a tournament overseas and was not included in the match-play draw.

The top seed Haroon Aslam breezed through to the semi-final pulverizing W.G. Isurur  Shimal 9 & 7 and will meet Pranav Muralidharan the fourth seed who handsomely beat an experienced T. Vikash 7 & 6. In the bottom half of the Junior  Championship  Draw, second-seeded K. Danushan smashed Thenuk Sathnidu 8 & 7. He will play third seed Vinuka Weerasinghe who beat Yehan Kenthula 6 & 4.

In the Girls Gold Division number one seed Kaya Daluwatte will meet Yehani Perera who received a walk-over from Dhanushi Wanasinghe. Third seed Dhavinka Kanag-Isvaran beat R.M. Dinumi Sanjana 7 & 6 to set-up the second semi-final against second seed Sherin Balasuriya who also received a walk over from Sanduni Wanasinghe.

The Bronze Division Semi-Final clash between top seed Thejas Rathis Kanth and Keya Abhayarathne will be the feature battle. Keya Abhayarathne defeated Kaitlyn Norton 6 & 5 to set-up the semi-final match versus the top seed Thejas. In the bottom half of the draw second-seed Mohamed Saqeer Zuhar  will meet third-seeded Yehansa Senananayake.

In the Copper Division played over nine holes, Yuvan Rathis Kanth beat L.G. Anuja Methsara 6 & 4 to meet the second seed Jaeden Sathasivam whilst in the top half of the draw top seed Danik Daluwatte faces Taalia Silva.

The five semi-final matches scheduled for Thursday promise to be thrillers with the youngsters soaking in the pressure and performing well, adapting to the exciting Match-play format, that moulds the character of young golfers.

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Arjuna heads new Sports Council  

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Members of the newly appointed Sports Council pose with the Sports Minister

A new Sports Council was appointed by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday with World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the reign as the head of the apex body.

The other members of the Sports Council are: Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Amal Edirisooriya, Maj. Gen. Rajitha Ampemohotti, Dr. Maiya Gunasekara, Shriyani Kulawansa, Ajith Pathirana, Sunil Jayaweera, Chrishantha Mendis, Lasitha Gunaratne, Nalinda Illangakoon, Sudath Chandrasekara, Sujani Bogollagama.

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NH bids adieu to Ladies’ College after 50-year stint as TT coach

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N.H Perera pictured with the Ladies’ College table tennis team players

By a Special Sports Correspondent

Former table tennis National Champion, National Coach and sporting legend N.H Perera probably set a record in the Sri Lankan school sporting arena when he retired from coaching Ladies’ College Colombo in the ping pong ball and racket game after serving this academic institute for 50 years.

NH, as he is fondly known in the table tennis circles, started coaching Ladies College back in 1972 following an invitation made to him by the teacher in charge of sports back then Delita Fernando. When he turns the pages of time the only reason that came to his mind to say yes to this coaching assignment was that he wanted to give something back to the sport. He was quite young then (21 to be exact) and had won the table tennis national singles crown twice (1968/70) by then. He recalled with fondness how the lasses from this school won the National School Games title in 2019.

He produced many outstanding female players from this school and the secret behind his success was him being a strict disciplinarian. At the time he said yes to coaching at Ladies’ College he had laid down a condition for the authorities of the school. That was to arrange practices in the morning. This was because he was gainfully employed in work done outside table tennis. This goes on to show the caliber of players in the golden years of the sport. A good many of them had the capacity to contribute to society using their brains and education unlike today where the players are forced to supplement their income through table tennis coaching. For the record, NH served several companies and institutes in many capacities; proving that engaging in competitive sport and showing commitment to employment are a possibility when the individual has the capacity to manage both. When he finally retired from work he held the post of Marketing Manager at United Arab Shipping Lines.

He had his education at Nalanda College and had the honour of being the first table tennis national captain to be produced by this academic institute.

He rates the 1970s as the golden era of the sport. “I say this because we were invited by the ITTF to contest the Afro Asian Latin American Table Tennis Championship in Peking, China. During his playing days, NH had beaten top players from Russia, China, and also Europe. The picture he sees now in Sri Lankan table tennis is not so rosy. “We even lost to Nepal at the last SA Games. I believe the TTASL must be dissolved and a Board of Control for Table Tennis must be formed instead. Today we see many coaches out there who cannot put the ball over the net,” said Perera.

NH sees more potential in the Sri Lanka female players. According to him, the women’s players from Sri Lanka had finished sixth at the previous Commonwealth Games. “I trust that the way forward would be to bring down a female table tennis coach and male trainer; both from China. This would raise the standard of our playing,” said Perera who many years ago qualified as a coach from the Peking University of China.

He also spoke about the psychological aspects to training players. NH underscored the importance of bringing in psychology to training to help players handle unexpected challenges in the game. “You have to do sessions to develop the minds of the players,” said Perera.

He is at present engaged in coaching the students at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The school by the sea won the All Island Table Tennis Championships in 2019 under his guidance.

NH maintains high standards for his players and himself. He recalls an incident in the past; which occurred during the time he was young and already the national champion. “I was coming out of the YMCA training hall after training and a photographer asked me to pose for a picture. I was in slacks and this picture appeared in the newspaper. I was summoned to the TTASL and a top official asked me why I had disgraced the sport by not being properly attired for a photograph that appeared in a national newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson in life,” concluded Perera.

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