by Reemus Fernando
Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon shattered the Sri Lanka National record and the South Asian men’s 100 metres record, offering glimpse of hope to end more than two decades of wait for a Sri Lankan champion to feature in an Olympics in the glamorous sprint event.
Former Pannala National School and St. Joseph Vaz College athlete clocked 10.16 seconds to break Himasha Eshan’s national record at a championship in Germany where he beat a host of German sprinters to win the 100 metres dash on Tuesday.
Congratulatory massages were a galore in the social media from midnight Tuesday as the track and field fraternity took stock on the capabilities of a 4×100 metres relay team at regional international level and Abeykoon’s own chances of qualifying for the quadrennial event.
In an interview with The Island Abeykoon thanked every one who had helped him reach where he is today and stressed that earning Olympic qualifying standards was his goal.
He said that he missed two months of training due to Covid-19 pandemic and commenced training in July. His two coaches Maurizio Raparelli and Claudio Licciardello had prepared plans to asses his strengths this season and he was reaching the peak.
He had been in Italy for five years now and had dedicated his time fully for training while his expenses had been bone by his parents.
“I would like to thank those who helped me on my way to achieving the national record. My coaches, my parents, Gen. Palitha Fernando, the president of Sri Lanka Athletics who had been in constant contact,” said Abeykoon.
“I was congratulated by the new Sports Minister in the morning. It is the first time that I received any communication from the Ministry. I hope country’s athletes will get the necessary support.”
“From now on I will target achieving Olympic qualifying standards,” said Abeykoon.
The 25-year-old had produced a notable feat days ago before smashing the national record established by Eshan last year.
With Abeykoon now inching closer to the tough Olympic qualifying mark, pressure will be on home based athletes like Eshan, Suranjaya and Yodasinghe to earn the rare berth.
“This pressure will help Sri Lanka improve standards in the 100 metres and we will be able to field formidable relay teams for international events,” Sri Lanka Athletics statistician Saman Kumara told The Island.
Incidentally, Abeykoon who was placed third behind Himasha Eshan and Vinoj Suranjaya at the National Championships in 2019 produced impressive performances ahead of the last South Asian Games. Sri Lanka Athletics had taken a policy decision to feature only the winners of the National Championships for individual events of the regional Games thus he could not featuring in the 100 metres. He was selected only as a member of the relay team for the South Asian Games where he anchored the team to gold.
A Sri Lankan 100 metres sprinter has not competed at an Olympics since the former champions, Asian Games medallist Sriyantha Dissanayake in Barcelona 1992 and Chinthaka de Zoysa in 1996 Atlanta Olympics represented the country. There had been a few national sprinters, who had given much hope early in their careers but the ever improving standards during the Bolt-dominated era made the country wait for more than quarter of a century. With the World Athletics raising the qualifying standards for the 100 metres dash to tough 10.05 seconds for the postponed Tokyo event, not many analysts could bet on a Sri Lankan sprinter for the coveted berth. But now with Abeykoon showing signs of vast improvement under a foreign coach, local authorities are left to keep their fingers crossed at the prospect of winning a 100 metres spot for Olympics.
Abeykoon who left for Italy after his schooling was coached by Chaminda Sampath Weerasinghe when he was at Pannala National School and St. Joseph Vaz College.
New Zealand Tour of West Indies
Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph set up West Indies five-wicket win
On a surface aiding the bowlers, Akeal Hosein made merry with a devastating spell of 3 for 28 in 10 overs while Alzarri Joseph too picked three wickets, bundling out the visitors for just 190 in the 46th over. The chase was not straightforward by any stretch of imagination, but Shamarh Brooks’s calm 79 off 91 balls ensured West Indies tasted rare ODI success in the series opener in Barbados.
Given the tricky conditions, Martin Guptill and Finn Allen made a circumspect start, until the seventh over when the latter took on Jason Holder to clobber one four and two sixes. New Zealand got to 40/0 in 8 overs when the passing showers halted play briefly. Though the break was hardly for 10 minutes, it allowed West Indies to regroup and make quick inroads right after play resumed. First to go was Allen, as he danced down to take on the left-arm spinner Hosein, only for Nicholas Pooran to run back from extra cover and take an excellent, diving catch.
Hosein took out Guptill in his following over to dent NZ further. New Zealand struggled for partnerships from there on as they fell from 53 for 2 to 116 for 5, even as Kane Williamson fought on from one end. That endeavour too was brought to a premature end, as Alzarri Joseph dismissed him for a 50-ball 34 – that ended up being the best batting effort for New Zealand in the game. A 40-run stand for the seventh wicket between Michael Bracewell and Mitchell Santner, followed by a 20-run alliance between Santner and Tim Southee pushed New Zealand past the 150-run mark and close to 200. But Southee and Boult fell in successive overs, leaving New Zealand with 190 in 45.2 overs.
Four balls into the chase, rain arrived again. But this time too it was passing showers that kept the players off the field for 15-odd minutes. When they returned, the senior duo of Boult and Southee saw the back of the West Indies openers by the sixth over, pushing West Indies on the backfoot early in chase. Up stepped Brooks to forge solid partnerships to defy the New Zealand bowlers as he and Keacy Carty added 37 for the third wicket off 48 deliveries. But Santner trapped him leg before to keep the pressure on the chasing side as they were down to 74 for 3. What ensued was the match-winning partnership between Brooks and his captain Nicholas Pooran, as they batted out the next 14.3 overs to add 75 runs.
Southee then came back with some success, as he induced an inside edge off Pooran’s bat that wicketkeeper Tom Latham pouched low. Brooks, who’d got his half-century during his partnership with Pooran, was set to see his team through to the finish line, before Boult too returned to clean him up. But at 149 for 4, New Zealand’s strikes were too little too late. Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood – who was playing in his first ODI since 2015 – saw the team through with five wickets and 11 overs to spare.
Rabada five for floors England
Rex Clementine at Lord’s
There aren’t too many lethal bowling attacks in the world than South Africa’s. Well spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada, captain Dean Elgar can turn to Anrich Nortje if he wants extra pace or rely on the versatile Lungi Ngidi for control. If variety is what the South African captain is after, he can bring on Marco Jansen, the left-arm quick. Given such a pace attack, the spin option of Keshav Maharaj becomes indispensable and he wasn’t required to bowl as England were shot out for 165 in their first innings.
The Rainbow Nation is well represented with blacks, whites and coloured players forming the nucleus of the attack. Rabada finished with a five wicket haul, becoming the fourth South African since readmission to get his name in the Honours Board; others being Allan Donald (2), Makaya Ntini (2) and Vernon Philander. How Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn missed out is indeed a good question.
Rabada had overnight batsman Ollie Pope dropped in the first over of the morning but eventually he cleaned him up for 73. The fifth wicket came when James Anderson was trapped leg before wicket, a decision the batsman unsuccessfully reviewed.
Nortje, probably the quickest bowler in the world at the moment, claimed three wickets while Jansen had two scalps. The 22-year-old from Potchefstroom is considered the next big thing in South African cricket. It’s said he could go onto fill the boots of Jacques Kallis but if he could achieve half the things the great all-rounder finished with, South African cricket will benefit immensely.
South Africa had moved to 27 for no loss at lunch. The first day had been interrupted by bad weather with just 32 overs possible.
Sri Lanka have been well represented at Lord’s Test with former captain Ranjan Madugalle functioning as Match Referee while Kumar Sangakkara is a commentator with Sky. The ex-skipper has signed a three years deal with the host broadcaster replacing Michael Holding.
Emma Raducanu routes Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati
British number one Emma Raducanu produced another eye-catching display as she routed former world number one Victoria Azarenka less than 24 hours after beating Serena Williams.Raducanu continued her preparations for the forthcoming defense of her US Open title with a 6-0 6-2 win in Cincinnati.
The 19-year-old played Belarusian veteran Azarenka just 18 hours after beating Williams, who will retire after the US Open, 6-4 6-0 on Tuesday.Raducanu faces Jessica Pegula next.The Briton, ranked 13th in the world, will meet the American seventh seed in the last 16 of the Western and Southern Open on Thursday.
“I was playing a great match for sure and to play Vika I had to stay focused throughout,” said Raducanu, who beat 22nd-ranked Azarenka to earn her first top-30 win since last year’s US Open.
Raducanu stunned the sporting world with her unexpected triumph in New York last year, when she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in what was only her fourth senior tournament.
The victory propelled the previously little-known teenager into global superstardom, but she has since faced the difficulties often encountered by young players in their first full season on the WTA Tour.Regularly hampered by fitness issues this year as she adjusts to the rigours of the senior tour, Raducanu arrived in Cincinnati with a record of 11 wins and 14 losses this season.But with her fearless and accurate ground strokes, she has so far shown a similar level in the WTA 1000 event to the one which led to her success at Flushing Meadows.
Pegula, however, is likely to provide a sterner test – and a more accurate appraisal of Raducanu’s current level – than Williams or Azarenka.In what was her first career meeting with 23-time major champion Williams and likely to be the last, the teenager clinically took advantage of the 40-year-old’s lack of sharpness by hitting 14 winners and making just one unforced error in a ruthless victory.After that night session, Raducanu returned to Cincinnati’s centre court against 33-year-old Azarenka and produced another dominant display.
The forehand continued to be a potent weapon, while she was also helped by wayward returning from the two-time Grand Slam champion.After cruising through a 26-minute opener to record a second straight bagel, Raducanu raced into a 4-0 lead in the next set, before Azarenka finally got on the scoreboard with back-to-back holds.She offered a little more belated resistance when Raducanu served for the match, earning two break points and saving a match point before the Briton wrapped up victory.
“In the second set I could feel the important moments and a couple of turning points that could have made the second set really difficult,” added Raducanu.
“I am really pleased with how I dug in, and serving it out in that last game was really difficult.”
American teenager Coco Gauff has played down the seriousness of the ankle injury which forced her to retire from a first round match against Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova on Tuesday.With her home Grand Slam looming, the 18-year-old said it was a minor sprain that “should be healed very soon”.
Romania’s Simona Halep pulled out of the Cincinnati event with a thigh injury before Wednesday’s match against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, while Polish world number one Iga Swiatek, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Tunisia’s world number five Ons Jabeur reached the last 16.
New Zealand Tour of West Indies
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