by Reemus Fernando
It will be an anxious few days for country’s number one long distance runner Nilani Ratnayake as the Tokyo Olympic qualification deadline looms. For a better part of the last two years Ratnayake was country’s highest ranked athlete in the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings’. In the Asian Rankings she was only second to Winfred Mutile Yavi of Bahrain in her pet event, the 3,000 metres steeplechase. In the ‘Road to Olympic Rankings she was well within the required rankings to earn the ticket to Tokyo. But two weeks ahead of the Olympic qualification deadline she has dropped to the 39th position. But that is not due to a lack of commitment or form but due to things beyond her control.
Lack of quality competitions to compensate solid training regimens has been a problem ailing country’s progress in track and field. Though experts, mostly the former athletes and Olympians who had benefited from overseas training and competitions, have repeatedly highlighted the need to provide quality competitions for local athletes, they have often fell on deaf ears. The World Athletics’ world ranking system, which heavily favours top grade competitions, requires athletes seeking top rankings to compete in such championships. An athlete seeking Olympic qualification has to excel at top competitions if he or she is to realize the dream of competing at the quadrennial event.
The Covid 19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the aspirations of country’s Olympic hopefuls in the track and field sport as they have been deprived of quality competitions to improve their rankings. The Asian Athletics Championship did not take place due to the pandemic and many other regional competitions also did not see the light of day due to the same reason.
In a desperate move Sri Lanka Athletics tried to send their top athletes for a meet in Kazakhstan but lack of interest from the part of organizers in helping visa proceedings derailed the plan. The Indian Track and Field authorities have extended an invitation to their Sri Lankan counterparts to field a team for their Inter State meet starting on June 25 but the tour was still doubtful when this article went to press.
The US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka climbed up the world rankings in dramatic fashion during the last few months. But he is stranded in the 52nd position in the Road to Olympic Rankings due to unavailability of competitions. Thivanka has a seasonal best of 2.30 metres, his new Sri Lanka record, but needs to clear 2.33 metres or reach a ranking position of 32 if he is to compete in Olympics.
There are others. Rio Olympic participant Sumeda Ranasinghe is currently ranked 48th in the Road to Olympic Rankings, middle distance runner Nimali Liyanarachchi is ranked 55th, just seven ranking positions behind the selection mark and sprinter Nadeesha Ramanayake is ranked 56th and needs to climb just eight positions up if she is to realize her dream.
Now take the case of Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon. He needed just a single Diamond League Competition last week to overtake more than thirty athletes and secure a position among the top 50 athletes in the world rankings. He was placed fourth there. He is now almost certain of his participation in the Olympics as he has couple of more competitions to maintain his rankings.
It is no simple task to secure a position among the top 100 athletes in the world. There are other local athletes who have secured positions among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines despite not taking part in quality international competitions. They have toiled hard for years to reach where they are and with the hope of doing their best this year. They will feel hard done by as hopes of reaching qualifying standards diminish due to lack of competitions.
Nilani Ratnayake’s chances of competing in Tokyo will depend on the performances of her rivals who are ranked below her during the next week. Ratnayake last competed in an international event in 2019. She needs to remain within the top 48 athletes in world rankings by June 29 if she is to take part.
True that the Covid 19 pandemic was responsible for the lost opportunities that denied chances of improving world rankings but it is incumbent upon authorities to realize the value of making available quality competitions for deserving athletes.
Making Olympic dream a reality
by Rex Clementine
After Duncan White won the nation’s first Olympic medal in London, it took Sri Lanka 52 years to win their second Olympic medal in Sydney. If you believe in law of averages, our next medal should come somewhere in 2052. If you are over the age of 40 now, there is a good chance that you would be dead by the time the nation wins the next medal in Olympics. But then, there’s also something called if there’s a will there’s a way.
Perhaps, you don’t have to wait for as many as 52 years to win an Olympic medal if you can come across a genius like Susanthika. It is a well documented fact that she was a rare talent and she was destined for greatness from the moment her skills were spotted as a teenager. All what you need is someone with immense skill to break all the barriers and she remains an inspiration to millions of Sri Lankans.
But you tend to remember Arjuna’s words. Some players come along once in 50 years; Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan are the examples that he gives. The same is true with Susanthika.
However, some countries seem to be doing it with limited resources. Look at New Zealand. Despite a population of five million, they are among the top ten in the medals tally having already won six golds. Well, they have the sporting infrastructure, one may say. Fine, but what about Philippines, a developing country like us. They have already won two medals including a gold. Well, they have over 100 million population another may say. Then what about Cuba? With a population less than us (11 million), and an economy not so great, they have so far claimed 11 medals including four golds! Fabulous.
What prevents our athletes from reaching greater heights is an interesting question our readers may ask. One of the main issues that sportsmen in our country face is that the games they play are not professional. Except for cricket, all other sportsmen are amateurs. A good majority of them, thanks to their sporting skills find employment in the private sector and then instead of fine tuning their sporting skills, they do 8 – 5 jobs as business establishments are under pressure to perform constantly.
Businessmen who loved sports like Rienzie T. Wijetilleke, Hemaka Amarasuriya and late R. Rajamahendran are a rare breed who wanted their employees to train morning and evening and told them not to turn up for work. They will of course have an axe to grind if their sports stars didn’t perform up to expectations.
This is where the Sports Ministry needs to step in. Usually, the Ministry steps three months prior to a competition requests mercantile establishments to free the athletes to compete in global competitions. But sportsmen and women in other parts of the world are training six hours a day on a daily basis for four years.
Is there any possibility that the Sports Ministry identifies around five sports where there are medal prospects – ideally individual sports – and then offer these athletes annual contracts and ask them to train without worrying about earning a living. Surely, it’s not going to cost them an arm and a leg.
There’s three years for the next Olympics and with expertise coaching, the nation can have some hope of not waiting for half a century to win an Olympic medal. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
How lending a bat to Murali landed Flintoff in trouble
by Rex Clementine
Spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan is a fiercest competitor in cricket, but he is also known for his friendly nature. He is hugely popular among both team mates and opponents. You would hardly come across someone who has something nasty to say about Murali; it’s like finding a needle in haystack. Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya gifting a bat to his Sri Lankan counterpart Chamika Karunaratne made headlines both here and across the Palk Strait. However, much before this, England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff lending Murali a bat made headlines.
Murali and Andrew Flintoff were great mates. They were team-mates at Old Trafford when Murali was Lancashire’s overseas signing.
In 2003, when England came to Colombo for their winter tour, Flintoff was a rising star. Three years later he would go onto become England captain. In his book ‘Second Innings’, Flintoff recalls his camaraderie with Murali.
“In that series, it panned out that I wasn’t bowling too much short stuff at Murali and he wasn’t bowling too many doosras at me. Which was a bit naughty, I can see that. I’d had dinner with him the night before one match. Murali said, ‘Fred, I haven’t got any bats left. Can I borrow one of yours?’ It was a bit tricky because Nasser Hussein had put a ban on us even talking to Murali. We were supposed to be freezing him out,” Flintoff recalls.
“Murali tried again on the morning of the match, asking for a word. Nasser was glaring at me from a distance, clearly very unhappy. So I said to Murali as quickly as possible, ‘When we go out to field, go into the England dressing room. Just nip in the back door and take one of my bats – but keep the whole thing under your hat.’
“Once the match was under way and we took a few Sri Lankan wickets, Nasser brought me on to bowl out the tail, as was the plan in those days. Out strides Murali, carrying my bat. Nasser, meanwhile, talks me through the plan. ‘I want you to go at him. Short stuff.’
“Hmm. Tricky one this, on lots of levels, especially given the status of bouncers and doosras for me and Murali.
‘Nasser, I think I can get a yorker through him, nice and full will do the job here,’ Flintoff tells Hussein.
But he doesn’t get an approval. ‘No, I just told you,’ Hussein says. ‘I want you to go at him.’
Flintoff doesn’t sour his relationship with Murali. So he decides to pin Sri Lanka’s number 11 with a yorker instead of a bouncer. ‘No, I’m going to try and bowl him. Hit the stumps. Job done,’ he tells himself.
“So, I ran in, trying to bowl a yorker, directly against instructions. Didn’t get through. In fact, it found the middle of the bat, my bat – good middle it had, too.”
“Nasser threw all his toys out of the pram. I was taken off. Then Murali started charging the other bowlers, smashing them.
“After one huge six, Murali walks between me and Nasser at the change of ends. I can see Nasser ready to explode. Murali has a huge grin on his face: ‘F****** good bat, Freddie.”
Sri Lanka won the match by an innings and 225 runs to seal the series. Any guesses about Player of the Series; Muttiah Muralitharan.
Suresh who captained Thomians to President’s Trophy triumph passes away
Former S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia cricketer Suresh Goonesekere who was the captain when the school won the Inaugural President’s Trophy passed away. He was living in the UK.
The S. Thomas’ Sports officials said that Goonesekere will always be remembered as a very good sportsman who brought honour to the school.
A batting opener Goonesekere played in the S. Thomas’ First XI team from 1990 to 1992, captaining the team in his last year. The names of both Suresh Goonesekere and his father P.N.W. Goonesekere are etched in the Battle of the Blues Big Match history.
The Thomians won when P.N.W. Goonesekere captained the team in 1964. When Suresh Goonesekere captained the school in 1992 the Thomians amassed massive 328 for nine wickets and restricted Royal to 145 runs in the first innings. While Royal had scored over 300 runs previously, it was the first time the Thomians had scored over 300 runs in the historic Battle of the Blues.
The Thomians were the winners of the Inaugurai President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney when Goonesekere skippered team beat Ananda in the final in 1992.
Goonesekere also played for SSC in the Division I tournament.
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