An Olympian writes
by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam
In villages and urban areas in Sri Lanka children play softball cricket, soccer, running and jumping after school, weekends and during end-of-term holidays. This article is based on my experience from 1943. Children can use space available in areas near their houses or in space available around their house. Children are creative, to plan, execute and resolve their problems and learn from their errors.
It is important for children to actively take part in sports with whatever facilities available. If none are available to make them, they can play indigenous games that uses legs, hands, running, jumping, balls, seeds, marbles to create strategies, problem solving and decision making, and learn social and sportsmanship skills. In all games the participants will learn to abide by the rules and decision made by the Referee or Umpire.
In athletics, we dug high jump and pole vault pits. We loosened the soil with a spade. The high jump and pole vault posts were two thick straight branches from the Poovarasu tree planted permanently with nails driven two inches apart. The bar was a one-inch thick branch of the same tree. The pole was a straight branch thicker than the cross bar.
At school, the high jump, long jump, triple jump and pole vault pits were filled with sand. The pole vault standards were made of wood with a base. It had a movable part inside the main post that can be raised to 12 or 13 ft. For high jump the same posts or posts 6’ 6″ with a base is used. All wooden posts were made by carpenters in Jaffna adopting design in sports books or modeled after the posts in schools in Colombo. The poles were bamboo of different length and thickness. They were cured in fire made from dry leaves to strengthen them.
The loosened soil or sand in the jumping pit dictated we land in one or both feet in the high jump or pole vault. The bar clearance was sideways or chest facing the bar. In the high jump most used the scissors style and land in one or both feet. Older jumpers used Eastern Cut Off. In that style they ran from the front of the bar, made a curve going outside one of the posts and took off with one foot.
In 1948 we read in the papers the results of the athletic events. We saw the pictures of events. We saw Harrison Dillard won the 100m. Australian John Winter won the high jump using the Eastern Cut-Off style. In 1949 my school Principal, Rev. C.A. Smith took the whole school to see the London Olympics at the Regal Theatre near the Fort. We saw the 400m hurdles and Duncan White winning Silver Medal. It is then I wanted to compete in an Olympic Games someday. Did not tell anyone. I did not think at that time that I will take part in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
I am sure a 14-year-old or older watching the 2020 (2021) Olympics on television will be inspired to train to take part in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games or Los Angeles Games in 2028.
If you are a beginning high jumper dreaming of competing in future Olympic Games, start with jumping using the scissors style. But with a run-up with a 4-stride curve at the end before you take-off. A sand pit, or a pit with loosened soil is sufficient. The posts and bar can be from branches like described above. This advice is for high jumpers, coaches and parents. Such beginning will help to learn the fundamentals of high jumping and requirements for a technically correct run-up and take-off. It will help to clear the bar using the flop style. When you can jump 1.55m or 1.60m with scissors you can then learn to jump using the flop from an experienced coach who has coached high jumpers who had jumped at least two metres or higher.
Many people, parents and teachers often assume that, jumping, running, hurdling and throwing does not teach children about what is required by the curricula and National Examinations. This is far from the truth. Athletics, cricket, football and other games teach principles of science, especially physics. We learn principles of social science, mathematics and about the working of the muscles, exhaustion, recovery and abiding by the rules of the games and decisions of referees and umpires. A sportsperson is consumed by sports and desire to excel they spend much of their study time daydreaming or figuring out how best to practice and perform better.
The best way the education system can help the sportspersons to do well in sports and studies is to require students to earn credit passes in the subjects at the end of a term to represent the school and take part in sports. The sportspersons will earn the Credit pass grade to represent the school and take part in sports. Such a system is practiced in the school and university system in the United States. Those who represent the United States in the Olympic Games or win medals are all either students in universities or graduates of universities. Sri Lanka athletes and sportspersons have the same capacity to be great in studies and sports if opportunities to learn and compete.
The choice is ours to motivate and give the opportunities to our sportspersons to excel in sports, studies and profession.
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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