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New face to head Hockey – SSP Kamal Pushpakumara

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Some may say that it is wishful thinking to make Sri Lanka the best hockey playing nation in the Asian region above India, Pakistan, South Korea and Malaysia but that is going to be the vision of Kamal Pushpakumara, who will be contesting for the post of President at the upcoming hockey elections that will be held via video conference on the 31st of May.

A Senior Superintendent of Police, Pushpakumara has a few tricks up his sleeve in order to make Sri Lanka a force to be reckoned with in the region in hockey.

A former First Class cricketer, SSP Pushpakumara also represented Police in Hockey and made several overseas tours. Sri Lanka won the Police Cricket World Cup in Worcestershire in England under his captaincy.

One of his main plans to improve the game in the country is to increase the number of kids playing the game by reaching out to new schools to join the game and sustaining them in the sport without giving up halfway through.

Improving the infrastructure at grassroots levels, making the role of umpires and technical support professional are other areas that have been looked at in a bid to create interest and make  improvements in the game.  Virtually, this can be termed as the short term goal.

There will be an Elite Pool established comprising 100 children from the age group of 16 to 19 to undergo a long term training program targeting future international events.  

The main fan base of Hockey is at Matale, Kandy, Colombo, Wennapuwa, Kalutara, Jaffna, Matara, Gampaha, Badulla and Galle. One of the main areas that have been looked at is to promote the game in the areas where the game is existing and to take the game to districts which doesn’t play hockey.

Developing the game all around the island will not only help identify players with exceptional skill levels but it also increases awareness on healthy life styles. The player development will be focused on two areas – schools and districts.

The development efforts will be done by qualified coaches with the help from International Hockey Federation and Asian Hockey Federation.

Since all major international events are played on synthetic pitches, the need arises to have more synthetic pitches in the country and at least one turf will be provided to Kandy, Wennappuwa, Jaffna and Badulla. In addition one district in the Southern Province – either Matara or Galle too will receive one. The existing synthetic turf in Colombo is worn out and it will be replaced.

There are ambitious moves to rope in a sponsor who is able to look into the burning issues of the sport.

Although the Ceylon Hockey Federation was started in the year 1933, after 88 years, the Hockey Federation doesn’t have a premises of their own to conduct their daily affairs. One of the priorities of SSP Pushpakumara is to have a permanent office for Hockey and to put up a dormitory for players who come to Colombo from outstations for training. There’s been good support from Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa on this regard.

While the talent in the sport is not lacking, lack of exposure for players at the international arena has resulted in players being not able to compete against the best in the world. Providing the players international exposure is a must and helping them improve their technical and tactical game needs to be looked after along with providing them nutrition.

“It is my firm belief that after cricket, hockey can go onto make the nation’s most successful sport. Hockey is not a contact sport. Like cricket is a sport involving bat and ball, hockey is a sport that involves stick and ball. So the skill levels are almost the same,” SSP Pushpakumara elaborated.

He also intends to establish an IPL like domestic franchise based tournament with the participation of foreign players and he believes that this will create lot of interest on the game. The help of Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa in this regard is highly valued.

Sri Lanka were ranked number  four in  Asia in the 1960s but currently the team has suffered huge setbacks to be ranked 11th. More recently, the sport has run into problems and a fresh face is needed to address the burning issues of the game. SSP Pushpakumara with a visionary attitude and a desire to work hard is the ideal person to do the job.



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Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics  

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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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Time to kick out optional training

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The Australians are pioneers in coaching. Having added science into coaching, they took the game to a new level in mid 1990s. Others followed suit. But it’s time to also kick out some of the old Aussie habits. Such as ‘optional training’.  

When Ricky Ponting’s side arrived in Colombo for a lengthy tour in 2004, their coach John Buchanan made training before a game optional. Matthew Hayden went fishing, Shane Warne rushed to the casino while Andrew Symonds was at the bar.

Buchanan was handling a bunch of professionals. Hayden’s training schedule is mind-boggling. The team hotel the Aussies were staying had  a modern gym. They open at 5 am but on Sundays, they open only at 6 am. When Hayden walked in at 5 am on a Sunday, he found the gym not operating. But by next Sunday it was fixed and since then it’s been opening at 5 am thanks to early bird Hayden.

If you ask a current Sri Lankan cricketer, he would not know what time the gym opens at Cinnamon Grand but he would be invariably aware what time Cheers pub closes.

As we reported yesterday, several young players who have just made it to the side skipped practices when it was made optional a few days ago.

Professional cricketers they maybe but their conduct is far from being professional. The Sri  Lankans have one of the youngest sides in the world and they also have world’s worst fielding team. Many are the areas where improvements can be made and it is earnestly hoped that this concept of optional training is thrown out of the window.

They have been taught a few harsh lessons such as being made to forego central contracts. While administrators can be a bit lenient on that and offer them central contracts, there should be no tolerance on concepts like optional training. Until they secure qualification for the World Cup at least ban optional training.

If you thought that the attitude of senior players and their lethargic attitude to training had left us in a mess, the youngsters who are yet to establish their places in the side are sending the wrong signals. This must be stopped. Soon.

They aren’t any professionals in our cricket. They are all cry babies who take to social media tilting at windmills.

They are expected to do two changes for today’s game leaving out Lakshan Sandakan and Kasun Rajitha. Ramesh Mendis and Lahiru Kumara are likely to replace them.

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Youth hurdlers reviving White’s legacy at Asian level  

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Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VII 

by Reemus Fernando  

Sri Lanka has excelled in sprint events at South Asian and Asian athletics events and the general belief is that the country’s strength is in sprints. But of all Olympic track and field disciplines sprint events were the least competed at Olympics by Sri Lankan athletes during the last four editions.  The 400 metres hurdles, the event in which Duncan White won the country its first Olympic medal in 1948, is the least discussed discipline with regard to medal prospects at the international level now. But quite conspicuously according to our analysis, the 400 metres hurdles has been the most medal producing track and field event for Sri Lanka at youth level in Asia.  

The last two pieces of this series discussed what became of two 400 metres hurdlers who excelled at the first Asian Youth Athletics Championship in 2015. Though the 2015 edition was the first Asian track event for youth athletes (Under-18), the Asian Youth Games, which was introduced as the Asian version of the Youth Olympics in 2009, also presented a valuable opportunity for youth in Asia to gain international exposure. 

In 2013 Sri Lanka won four medals in the Games held in Nanjing, China. Of them, two were from hurdles events. While Nirmali Madushika and Dilhani Fernando won the 400 metres and 800 metres bronze medals in the female category at the 2013 event, Akila Ravisanka and Anuradha Vidusanka won boys’ 110 metres and 400 metres hurdles events respectively. Sri Lanka certainly had an opportunity to build on this success had the next Games were held in Sri Lanka as scheduled. Hambantota had been awarded the 2017 edition of the Games but it did not see the light of day as it was later awarded to Jakarta before it was cancelled.  

At the 2015 Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Doha, when Yamani Dulanjali won gold in the girls’ 400 metres hurdles, the corresponding boys’ event final featured two Sri Lankan hurdlers. Both were in contention for medals but Uditha Chandrasena had to settle for fourth place. St. Sylvester’s College, Kandy hurdler Harshana Rajapaksha clinched silver with a time of 52.88 seconds.  

Two years later Navodya Sankalpa from Mahinda College, Galle won the bronze at the Asian Youth Championship with a time of 53.86 seconds.  

Meanwhile, at Asian Junior events, Kaushalya Madushani won a silver in the 400 metres hurdles with a 62.31 seconds feat in 2014. Both Navodya and Madushani were still engaged in athletics when the pandemic struck Sri Lanka in 2020. Madushani is among a very few female athletes to have continued in athletics after leaving school. She has two medals from the last two South Asian Games as well. 

The achievements of country’s youth athletes at Asian level can be largely attributed to the competition at the school level. Despite all hindrances including lack of hurdles and encouragement for the event, there are a number of schools that take up this discipline seriously. Thanks to their efforts there is quite a competition in hurdles events at the youth level. Hence medal success at the Asian Youth level. In general, all track and field events see a drop of standards when athletes reach junior (Under-20) level. There is a drastic drop in the number of participants in hurdles events in the Under-20 category. That further dwindles at the senior level. Results at an international level are quite predictable.  

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