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Pushpakumara: an unsung hero

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A decade of steeplechase dominance 

by Reemus Fernando   

Dominating any sport for a long time is not an easy task. It takes commitment and a deep devotion to the sport to perform continuously at the top level specially when rewards for achievements are hard to come by. Rajapaksha Mudiyanselage Samantha Pushpakumara, lovingly called ‘Blackiya’ by fellow athletes, is one of the rare performers who demonstrated such commitment and determination to dominate one of track and field’s more demanding disciplines, the 3,000 metres steeplechase for almost ten years.  

From 2011 he was the undisputed champion in his pet event, the 3000 metres steeplechase, which is still to attract the recognition it richly deserves in Sri Lanka and the South Asian region. Pushpakumara clocked 9:05.45 seconds to win his maiden national title in 2011 reached his peak six years later when he clocked a notable 8:52.19 seconds at the National Championship in 2017. That personal best performance powered him to the 30th position in Asian rankings behind a host of Japanese and African born athletes. That was the third fastest performance in the South Asian region that year.  

The absence of this endurance discipline at the South Asian Games has prevented the likes of Pushpakumara from hogging limelight at the regional event and testing their true potentials by competing against tough opposition. However, despite such drawbacks and even the absence of the event at the National Sports Festival, Pushpakumara has persevered in this discipline for more than a decade now.  

Though, Sri Lanka started this discipline only after a synthetic track was first laid at the Sugathadasa Stadium in 1989, it has a long history in Asia with both the Asian Games (1951) and the Asian Athletics Championships (1973) featuring the event from the very inception.   

Of the steeplechase races conducted at the National Championships since 1989, Pushpakumara has accounted for nearly one third of the titles, an achievement that needs to be applauded. Apart from the National titles, Pushpakumara has accounted for many Sri Lanka Army Athletics titles, Defence Services Championship titles and bagged numerous trial meet victories.   

For an athlete who has dominated the discipline for so many years, the national record was probably the only achievement that he could not accomplish. According to Sri Lanka Athletics Recorder Saman Kumara, Pushpakumara is ranked third in the country’s all-time best performers’ list in the steeplechase.  

 Only the national record holder Shantha Mendis and former national champion Upendra Indika Bandara have run faster than Pushpakumara in the history of this discipline.   

Apart from steeplechase, Pushpakumara also found success in the 5,000 metres and the Cross Country winning titles including the National Sports Festival title on more than one occasion.   

Pushpakumara’s commitment for steeplechase and long-distance events was rewarded by Sri Lanka Athletics when he was selected for a few international events including the Asian Cross Country Championships and the Vietnam Open Athletics Championships. In 2017 he was the winner of both the steeplechase and the 1500 metres at the Vietnam Open Athletics Championships. 

He was picked for the South Asian Games teams solely on merit of his 5000 metres performances as his pet event was yet to debut at the regional event.  

  With no big achievements to his credit at school level, Pushpakumara honed his ability to run distance events after joining the Army. But it took several years after joining the Artillery Regiment, for him to carve a niche for himself as a formidable steeplechaser at national level. 

The only child in the family, Pushpakumara had “won village Avurudu races” but “had no big victories at school level” as a student of Mellawagedara MV, Divulapitiya. His first notable achievement whilst in the Army came in 2008 when he was placed third in the 5,000 metres at the Army Athletics Championship. That was after he came under the supervision of Brigadier Parry Liyanage who was a mentor to many leading distance runners including Chaminda Wijekoon and Anurada Indrajith Cooray who later went on to establish Sri Lanka records in the men’s 1500 metres and the marathon respectively.  

After dominating the steeplechase for nearly a decade, Pushpakumara has decided to shift his focus to distance road events. He won the 5000 metres at the last National Athletics Championship hheld in December but had to be content with the runner up title in the 3,000 metres steeplechase. It was the first time in ten years that the title eluded him.  

He will probably make one last attempt to regain the title at the next National Championships under the guidance of Upali Wickramasinghe, who has been training him for a long time now. The result of the men’s steeplechase at the next nationals will be of little interest to Pushpakumara’s fans as he has already left a lasting impression in their hearts.    

 

Profile

Name: Rajapaksha Mudiyanselage
Samantha Pushpakumara   

Date of birth:

16th March 1983  

Club:

Sri Lanka Army 

Personal Bests: 

1,500m:

3:53.59 secs 

3,000m Steeplechase:

8:52.19secs 

5,000m:

14:26.68 secs 

Coaches:

Parry Liyanage,

Upali Wickramasinghe  

 



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Navy men and women record wins at Inter Club rugby matches

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The men’s and women’s rugby teams of the Navy secured two more wins in their encounters over the Air Force in the Sri Lanka Rugby Nippon Paint Inter Club League Rugby Tournament at the Navy Rugby Ground, Welisara.

Navy men scored a thrilling 32-31 victory over Air Force where T.M. Weerasinghe added points through three conversions and two penalties. Further, S.J.F. Gregory, R.A.N.U. Perera, M.A.F.M. Mushin and G.D.J. Laksara also made a try each.

In the meantime, Navy women recorded a comprehensive 55-0 win over their Air Force counterparts. In this encounter, A.H.S. Madumali scored three tries and collected points through five conversions. In addition, R.S.H. Kumari scored two tries and P. Dilani, M.R. Kumudumalee, G.G. Randunu and W.R.W. Vithana too scored a try each.

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Dinara, Sajida win first-round matches

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ITF Junior Circuit Week I Tournament

Dinara de Silva and Sajida Razick won their respective first-round matches of the ITF Junior Circuit Week I tournament which commenced at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Monday.

De Silva beat Silvia Caliman of Spain 6-4, 6-2 to advance to the second round and Sajida Razick overcame India’s Gagana Mohal with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in her match.

The tournament is set to conclude on February 5.

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St. Anthony’s in command against Ananda

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Under 19 Cricket

Kaveesha Piyumal and Induwara Galapitage shocked Ananda sharing six wickets between them as St. Anthony’s, Katugastota contained the home team to 56 for eight wickets at stumps after posting a commanding 268 on day one of the Under 19 traditional match at Ananda Mawatha on Monday.

Mohomed Aaqil (73) and Kavindu Shehan (46) gave the hosts an ideal start adding 90 runs for the first wicket after they decided to bat first. Lahiru Abeysinghe, Rayan Anthonyzs and Janith Rathnasiri then made vital contributions for them to reach 268 runs.

In their essay home team were rocked by the visitors as Piyumal grabbed for wickets for 17 runs to rattle the middle order.

Scores:

St. Anthony’s

268 all out in 54 overs (Mohomed Aaqil 73, Kavindu Shehan 46, Lahiru Abeysinghe 47, Rayan Anthonyzs 27, Janith Rathnasiri 36, Charuka Ekanayake 21; Kithma Sithmal 3/86, Ashinsa Nainayake 2/57, Ayesh Shashimal 5/40)

Ananda

56 for 8 in 32 overs (Kaveesha Piyumal 4/17, Induwara Galapitage 2/11) (RF)

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