Centenary National Athletics Championship
by Reemus Fernando
The centenary National Athletics Championship which serves as the final selection trial for this year’s Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games will commence without much fanfare at Diyagama today.
With Sri Lanka Athletics deciding to scrap earlier plans to bring athletes from the South Asian and other regional countries due to the current situation in the country, the top notch athletes aiming for locally set qualifying standards for the two major international events, will vie against themselves during the three-day event.
There are ten finals scheduled for day one and with athletes aiming to achieve qualifying standards for the two major international events, record breaking performances are expected.
Hurdler Roshan Dhammika Ranatunga who broke Olympian Mahesh Perera’s national record in the men’s 110 metres last year, was not in his best form at last month’s trial. But he is likely to make a strong bid to improve on his own mark to win a place in the team for the Asian Games. His record breaking mark of 13.89 seconds is just 0.41 seconds shy of the qualifying mark.
Kaushalya Perera improved the women’s pole vault national record thrice last year and had an impressive start this year with two record breaking feats during the last two month. The former gymnast is expected to continue her record breaking spree.
The day will commence with the women’s 10,000 metres followed by men’s 5000 metres and the women 1500 metres.
Gayanthika Abeyratne who produced back to back national records in October last year is expected to hog the limelight in the 1,500 metres where her record mark is well within the Asian Games qualifying standard.
Sri Lanka has witnessed impressive performances in the women’s 800 metres during recent times. However, national record holder Dilshi Kumarasinghe will be absent when the event’s preliminary rounds are held today. In her absence young aspirant Tharushi Karunaratne who is a training partner of Kumarasinghe will vie against seniors including Abeyratne.
Men’s long jump preliminaries round will be another event to watch as there are several athletes on the border of the qualifying standards.
Day One (April 8) Finals
Women’s 10,000m at 07.00
Men’s 5,000m at 07.45
Women’s 1,500m at 08.15
Men’s Pole Vault at 08.30
Women’s Hammer Throw at 08.30
Men’s Shot put at 09.15
Women’s Pole Vault at 14.30
Men’s Hammer Throw at 14.30
Women’s 100 m hurdles at 15.00
Men’s 110m hurdles at 15.30
Kandy, Galle, Puttalam Schools win combined schools hockey titles
Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners and Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winner at the 55th Sri Lanka Combined Schools Under 20 boys and girls Hockey Nationals held from 27th to 30th June at the Torrington Astro Turf .
The boys’ final, between Kandy and Galle ended in a one-all draw; both goals scored in the first half, Kushan Ratnasuriya scoring for Galle and the equalizer by Bhanuka Ranasinghe for Kandy.
In the play off for the third and fourth places, Colombo beat Matale 1-Nil.
In the Semi Finals – Galle beat Colombo 4/3 on penalties and Kandy beat Matale 4/3 also on penalties.
Tharusha Pallewatte from Kandy ‘Blues’ was adjudged the best player and Anushka Maduwantha from Galle ‘Golds’ was picked as the best Goal Keeper.
In the girls’ final, Puttalam Schools beat Kandy Schools by two goals to nil. Both goals were scored in the second half via Madushika Fernando and Dinuli Nihansa.
In the play-off for the third and fourth places, Matale beat Colombo ‘Reds’ 1-nil.
Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winners.
In the Semi Finals – Kandy beat Colombo, 3-nil and Puttalam beat Matale, 4-nil.
Nipuni Ishara Fernando was adjudged as the best player and Neeliya Kaushini was picked as the best Goal Keeper (both from Puttalam).
The finals & the closing ceremony was attended by Athula Jayawardhana, Director of Sports, Central Province Education Department, (Chief Guest), Deva Ellepola, Vice Patron /Mercantile Hockey Association (Guest of Honour), Shashikala Senadheera (President), Anuruddha Herath Bandara (Secretary), Chandrakanthi Karunanayake, ( Deputy President), Wasantha Kumara (Vice President), Indrawansa Herath (Vice President) – All from Sri Lanka Schools Hockey Association.
More barriers ahead for hurdler Dharshana
by Reemus Fernando
In the Under 20 age category, athletes of only four countries in Asia have run the men’s 400 metres hurdles under 52 seconds, this year. One of them is a Sri Lankan. Dhanuka Dharshana, who is only 18 years old, has been the hurdler to beat during the last two years in his age category in Sri Lanka. In April, the athlete trained by reputed coach Anura Bandara turned the tables on his senior counterparts to emerge the national champion in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the Centenary National Athletics Championships.
One of the first Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the World Junior Athletics Championships to be held in Cali, Colombia in August, Dharshana is the most consistent performer in the men’s category among the Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the event. However, like the few junior athletes who showed potential to excel in the future in the pet event of Olympic Medalist Duncan White during the last two decades, will Dharshana find track and field not so exciting to pursue after leaving school?
“It is incumbent upon us to motivate our athletes to remain in the sport. But how can you do so when they do not get the opportunity they deserve. Participation in World Junior Championship is something that young athletes cherish. It is a huge learning opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes and will motivate them to remain in the sport,” said Dharshana’s coach Bandara.
Like Dharshana many others who reached qualifying standards for the World Junior event remain uncertain about the prospect of competing in Cali due to the financial constraints the country is currently facing though Sri Lanka Athletics has sent the names of seven out of the nine athletes who reached qualifying standards for the World event for the Sports Ministry approval and financial assistance. The Ministry has given only the approval and their participation will heavily depend on Sri Lanka Athletics’ ability to find much-needed funds for the costly trip.
Dharshana’s pet event, the 400 metres hurdles is the discipline that has won the highest number of medals for Sri Lanka at the junior Asian level during the last decade though a vast majority of the athletes who won those medals did not pursue track and field after leaving school. The most prominent female hurdler to emerge during the last one and half decades also came from Dharshana’s school, Ambagamuwa Central and was trained by Anura Bandara. Yamani Dulanjali won the first Asian Youth Championship hurdles gold medal in 2015, held the Under 20 Junior National Championship 400 m hurdles record until this year. With impressive performances as a junior, she was expected to excel at the senior level as well. Hailing from a not-so-well-to-do family she instead took up a teaching job.
Kaushalya Madushani, another 400 metres hurdler, who won junior Asian international medals, joined Sri Lanka Army, the final refuge for many a future prospect, after leaving school. She was yet to reach her full potential when she died a couple of months ago; it is alleged she took her own life.
Maris Stella College hurdler, Uditha Chandrasena, was yet another bright prospect to have excelled in the 400 metres hurdles at the junior level. He too gave up athletics after leaving school.
Although Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of hurdlers in the calibre of Dhanuka Dharshana at the junior level there had been no system to nurture them and make them stick to track and field.
Dharshana, who too is hailing from an ordinary family, has received the support of Olympian and Asian Games Gold Medalist Sugath Thilakaratne, the most famous product of his coach, Anura Bandara. He has also received the support of the school’s PTIs Indika Prasad and Amali Abeytunga and another benefactor whom he identified only as Nayana. But pursuing track and field as a senior athlete is an uphill task which requires more funding.
Ambagamuwa Central, where Dharshana learnt his ABC of athletics, has reaped the benefits of Bandara’s coaching with the school winning podium places at junior competitions every year. And, every year Bandara faces a dilemma as his trainees leaving the school have not found the right platform to launch a career in athletics.
With the junior athletes’ participation at the forthcoming World Junior Championships remaining uncertain to date, the coaches like Bandara will find it even harder to persuade athletes to remain in track and field.
Lyon set to become second most successful off-spinner in history
by Rex Clementine
Leg-spin legend Shane Warne retired from cricket in 2007 having achieved two key milestones; Australia had regained the Ashes and Warne had become the first man in history to take 700 wickets in Test match cricket. Since his retirement, Australia tried various spinners to fill his big shoes but with little success. Fellow leg-spinner Stuart MacGill was the natural successor to Warne, but he too threw in the towel 18 months after Warne’s retirement. Then Cricket Australia tried a host of finger spinners and some wrist spinners without much success. The wait ended in 2011 in Sri Lanka. For some reason, all good spin bowlers make their impact in our shores.
Australia arrived in Sri Lanka in 2011 with a new captain in Michael Clarke and their spin resources were untested. In fact, the team’s lead spinner was uncapped. His story was interesting. He had been a curator at Adelaide Oval and with his skill to bowl off-spin identified he was given a break in Sheffield Shield cricket. Seven months later, he was set to make his Test debut against the likes of Sangakkaras, Dilshans, Jayawardenes and Samaraweeras. That too in Galle, the Gabba of Sri Lankan cricket. There the legend of Nathan Lyon was born.
Lyon’s first ball in Test cricket was round the wicket to a left-hander. The ball pitched, turned and had bounce. The batsman was playing away from his body with an open face; the ball took the outside edge and was snapped up by Michael Clarke at slip. A wicket off first ball in Test cricket is just the dream stuff. It’s even more special when the batsman you have dismissed is Kumar Sangakkara, word’s number one ranked batsman at that point.
Lyon didn’t look back from thereon. He claimed a five wicket haul in the first innings as Australia secured a big win and went onto claim the series.
Ten years on, Lyon was quite handful again as he was the standout performer in the first Test in Galle. Sri Lanka’s spin was thin on experience and yet the hosts chose to prepare a track that would turn from day one and they ended up playing into Lyon’s hands as he finished with nine wickets.
Sri Lanka’s young spinners have much to learn from Lyon. He just figured out a length to bowl and kept pitching it there consistently and with batsmen taking too many risks with cross batted shots, it was just a matter of time before a wicket fell.
Lyon’s overall wicket tally is now 436 in 109 Tests and during the Galle game he went past several greats of the game like Kapil Dev (434), Rangana Herath (433) and Sir Richard Hadlee (431).
Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket. Muttiah Muralitharan leads the list with 800 and India’s Ravichandran Ashwin follows him as the second most successful offie with 442 wickets.
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