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Perseverance pays off for Nimali

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Tokyo Olympics- 12 days to go

by Reemus Fernando

No runner has excelled in multiple track events like Nimali Liyanarachchi during the last one and half decades in Sri Lanka. Except the sprint events of 100 and 200 metres and the track’s longest event the 10,000 metres, Liyanarachchi has competed in all other distances and achieved success at national level in all. As her fellow track and field athletes and coach Sujith Abeysekara would vouch for, it was the perseverance and the dedication that powered Liyanarachchi to achieve success at national and at Asian level. The ‘universality place’ that Liyanarachchi received from World Athletics to take part in the Tokyo Olympics is the ultimate reward for her perseverance.

The middle distance runner from Sooriyawewa alongside Gayanthika Abeyratne were the biggest medal hopes for Sri Lanka at Asian level in the women’s category during the latter part of the last decade. The country was experiencing a medal drought after the retirement of the likes of Susanthika Jayasinghe, Damayanthi Dharsha and Sriyani Kulawansa. With the country experiencing a dearth of medals in sprint events at international events, coaches were starting to focus on middle distance events for success at regional events when Sujith Abeysekara unearthed a gem of an athlete from Sooriyawewa. First trained for endurance events, Liyanarachchi’s initial success came in the 3,000 metres steeplechase, a discipline not many female athletes were willing to persevere a decade ago.

The event was not even a fixture in the regional South Asian Games. The highest a steeplechaser could achieve was the national title. It was on this back drop that Liyanarachchi took it upon herself to make the event one of the look forward to events. She breathed the event a new life in 2008 when she slashed nearly 30 seconds off the then National record to hog limelight. Former national record holder C.G.K. Abeyratne and Eranga Dulakshi entered the fray as the national record changed hands during the next few years. In 2011 she became the first Sri Lankan woman to run the 3,000 metres under 11 minutes as she clocked 10:44.92 seconds to create a new national mark. By the time she gave up the discipline to concentrate on 800 metres, the 3,000 metres steeplechase national record had improved by more than one minute. Incidentally, Nilani Ratnayake who missed the Tokyo Olympic qualifying mark by the thinnest of margins recently had entered the arena by that time.

Of all disciplines, Liyanarachchi’s best achievements have come in the 800 metres, 1,500 metres and the 4×400 metres relays, though she has also competed in the 5,000 metres and the 400 metres hurdles with moderate success. In fact Liyanarachchi is the current national record holder of the 1,500 metres and the 4×400 metres relay (2019 Asian Championship). Liyanarachchi hinted that she was one of the country’s top international medal prospects when she broke Dhammika Menike’s more than two decades old national record in 2016 though she did not get due recognition for it then. The record lasted just one year before fellow athlete Gayanthika Abeyratne claimed it after a close duel with her.

Liyanarachchi has South Asian Games (2016) and Asian Athletics Championship (2017) golds against her name for prowess in the 800 metres. By March this year she was the third ranked Asian in her discipline and was ranked among the top 60 athletes in the world in the ‘Road to Olympics’ rankings. That was despite missing competitions in 2020. She was injured in a road accident on the eve of the team’s departure for the South Asian Games in 2019. After spending months in rehabilitation she returned to competition later in 2020 and had earned a top ranking in Asia by March this year. However Olympics is a different story. She is not among the best in the world to have hopes of a final berth. A good performance in a semi final, a feat closer to the national record could be expected..



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So near yet so far for several junior athletes

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Medhani Jayamanne (centre) wins the girls’ 100 metres. (Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

by Reemus Fernando

While sprinters Isuru Kaushalya and Medhani Jayamanne further cemented their places in the team for the World Junior Championships it was a case of so near yet so far for a number of athletes who missed qualifying standards by narrow margins at the Junior Trial held at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo on Tuesday.

After going through many a hardships to continue training amidst the Covid 19 pandemic junior athletes produced some outstanding performances during the one-day competition yesterday.

St. Joseph’s College triple jumper Pasindu Malshan missed the qualifying standards after his best jump of 15.76 metres was measured with a wind reading of +3.7. The qualifying standards (QS) achieved with a tail wind of +2 are not considered eligible. He had two outstanding jumps measured at 15.76 metres (+3.7) and 15.47 metres. The qualifying standard is 15.60 metres.

Hurdlers Amesha Hettiarachchi from Kandy, M.D. Dharshana of Ambagamuwa Central and Kaveesha Bandara of Royal College, Colombo narrowly missed the qualifying mark. Amesh, despite failing to maintain the rhythm from the penultimate hurdle, returned a time of 62.66 seconds (QS: 60.75secs)

Dharshana hardly had any competition in the boys’ 400 metres hurdles and returned a time of 53.22 seconds which was a fraction of a second behind the qualifying standards (QS: 53.10). Royal hurdler Bandara was unlucky as he battled wind to return a time of 14.34 seconds in the 110 metres hurdles (QS: 14.15).

St. Peter’s College javelin thrower Ramesh Tharanga who is one of the promising throwers to have emerged from the junior circuit hurled the javelin to 68.33 metres (QS: 69.5m) which was just short of the target.

Long jumper Hirusha Hashen too narrowly missed the target as he cleared 7.31 metres (QS: 7.58 m).

Lumbini College missed a rare opportunity to field two 100 metres sprinters for the World Junior Championships when Chalith Piyumal had to run against the wind (-2.1). When Medhani Jayamanne who is also from Lumbini achieved the qualifying standards in the girls’ 100 metres, Piyumal clocked 10.78 seconds running against the wind (QS: 10.58).

 

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Kaushalya, Medhani dazzle as chance looms for mixed relay team

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by Reemus Fernando

Ananda Sastralaya Matugama sprinter Isuru Kaushalya produced one of the best performances by a junior athlete in Asia in the 400 metres this year when be bettered the World Junior Championship qualifying mark for the second time this season at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a Junior Trial yesterday to provide competition-starved junior athletes a chance to reach qualifying standards for this year’s World Under-20 Athletics Championships.

Kaushalya and sprinter Medhani Jayamanne were probably the best performers on the day as several athletes met disappointment after having come almost close to achieving qualifying standards for the World Junior Championship which will be held in three weeks time in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kaushalya, who had already achieved qualifying standard when he entered the one-day meet, clocked 46.90 seconds in the 400 metres final. His outstanding feat is the seventh fastest time this year by a junior athlete in Asia. While only seven junior athletes had clocked sub 47 seconds in Asia, Kaushalya improved his personal best clocking sub 47 seconds and now is the seventh fastest Asian over the 400 metres in his age category.

Medhani Jayamanne, who qualified for the world event in the 200 metres at the Interstate Championship in India recently, did her best to qualify in the 100 metres as well. Her efforts aided by a tail wind (of +2) stopped the clock at 11.85 seconds, the exact qualifying standard required to enter the event.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha runner Shanika Lakshani and Ratnayake Central athlete Tharushi Karunaratne are the others who had already qualified for the World Junior Championships. Having already secured her place in the team in the 800 metres, Karunaratne tried to achieve 400 metres qualifying standards as well yesterday. She fell just short of the target as she returned a time of 55.19 seconds (qualifying standard: 54.85 secs).

St. Joseph’s College triple jumper Pasindu Malshan missed the qualifying standards after his best jump of 15.76 metres had a wind reading of +3.7. There were a number of others who met similar disappointment.

Chance to field mix relay team

Sri Lanka is yet to field a mix relay team for any international event. However with strong performances in both the boys’ and girls’ 400 metres yesterday Sri Lanka Athletics has a golden opportunity to provide youngsters an opportunity to compete in the combined event in Kenya.

In the girls’ 400 metres, both Tharushi Karunaratne (55.19 secs), who has already qualified for the World Junior event in the 800 metres, and Holy Cross, Gampaha athlete Lakshima Mendis (55.29secs) both produced their personal best performances. In the corresponding boys’ event Wekada MV sprinter R.D. Bandara who finished second behind Kaushalya clocked 47.55 seconds.

With junior athletes lacking international exposure, exploring chances of fielding a mix relay team will augur well for their future.

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Second T-20 postponed after Pandya tests positive

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by Rex Clementine

Yesterday’s second T-20 International between Sri Lanka and India at RPS was postponed after Indian player Krunal Pandya tested positive for COVID. The game is expected to be played today followed by the final T-20 International on Thursday depending on the PCR results of the remaining players.

During the Antigen test taken on all players yesterday afternoon, Pandya had tested positive. Accordingly, seven other players who are identified as his close contacts were isolated.

All players of the Indian team and support staff then did PCR tests and although the results were expected by 6 pm yesterday, there was no official announcement when this edition went to print. Sources said that Pandya had tested positive in his PCR test as well.

There were a few concerns as to how Pandya tested positive as all players and coaching staff are in bio-secure bubbles and outside interaction is little. Health authorities were conducting investigations.

It is not clear as to how many days Pandya’s close contacts have to remain in isolation. However, India are carrying an extended squad and fielding a decent team should not be a worry.

This is the second instance the series has been postponed due to the pandemic. Earlier, after Sri Lanka Batting Coach Grant Flower tested positive, all Sri Lankan players were isolated and the series was pushed back by several days.

The Sri Lankan team was informed about the series being pushed back when they gathered for the team meeting at the hotel at 3pm. The Sri Lankans are staying at Cinnamon Grand while the Indians are at Taj Samudra. Both teams were supposed to stay at Taj but the Sri Lankans were evacuated after Flower tested positive.

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