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School athletes’ prospects at National Athletics Championship

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by Reemus Fernando

When the track and field sport resumes action this weekend after more than a year on the sidelines due to the Covid 19 pandemic, not only the top national athletes who are going to benefit. While the elite senior athletes compete to achieve qualifying standards for the Olympics and other international events, a host of school athletes vying against their senior counterparts will strive to weigh in their strengths in a bid to compete locally and internationally in 2021.

The Covid 19 pandemic prevented many an international sports event, including the Olympics, taking place in 2020. But the world sports governing bodies who postponed or cancelled such events are preparing to conduct events in 2021. The World Under-20 Athletics Championship which was to be held in Nairobi in July this year has now been rescheduled in 2021. School athletes who could not compete at junior national level due to the absence of competitions this year will take the 98th National Athletics Championship staring on Saturday as a platform to measure how well they have prepared to achieve entry standards for such events.

Youth Asian Championship medallist Navishka Sandesh is among a host of young sprinters aspiring to achieve entry standards for the World Junior event. The St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa sprinter clocked 47.96 seconds in the Under-18 boys’ 400 metres semi final at the Junior National Championship in 2019 to establish a new meet record. The strong competition in the senior category will augur well for the young hopeful as he will be lining up against South Asian Games medallist Aruna Dharshana and company.

Sprinter Milinda Perera is another schools aspirant who will have World Under-20 Championship entry standards on the back of his mind when he competes against seniors. The St. Mary’s College, Chilaw sprinter was the Under-18 200 metres champion at the last Junior Nationals. He will be competing in the men’s 100 and 200 metres alongside former national record holders and current national record holders. Lumbini’s Chalith Piyumal who was placed second behind Perera in the 200 metres will also be another young hopeful vying against seniors at the four day event. He had a feat of 22.22 seconds at the last Junior National finals.

In the women’s sprint events, most of the school athletes who won podium places at the last Junior Nationals (2019) make the majority in this senior National event, though one of the top contenders, Sadeepa Henderson will be conspicuous by her absence. Most of the sprinters trained by veteran coach Sunil Gunawardena have skipped the Nationals after the event was postponed to December.

2019 Asian Youth Championship bronze medallist Amesha Hettiarachchi is one of the top school hurdlers competing against seniors at this meet. The Viharamahadevi Balika, Kandy hurdler was the winner of both the Under-18 400 metres and the 400 metres hurdles at the last Junior Nationals. Hettiarachchi established a new record in her pet event clocking 61.71 seconds in the heats. Her bronze medal performance at the Asian Youth Championship was 61.42 seconds. She has to slash nearly one second off her last personal best over the higher hurdle if she is to achieve entry standards.

Holy Cross College, Gampaha athlete Shanika Lakshani who won the Under-18 800 metres at the last Junior Nationals will feature in both the 800 metres and the 400 metres. The Asian Youth Championship participant will have a tough ask in her pet event against seasoned campaigners but that battle will help her strive for the World Under 20 championship entry standards. Sri Lanka Athletics has included a number of junior school athletes on merit for the corresponding boys’ event as well as there are potential athletes who could make the most of the opportunity.

School athletes will form nearly one third of participants in the women’s category at the 98th National Athletics Championships. Though school athletes will not be among the favourites it will be an invaluable opportunity for the budding athletes who were without competitions to prove their potential.



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All Seeded players through to semis

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P & S Sri Lanka Junior Open Golf Championship

The P&S Sri Lanka Junior Golf Match-play championship, sponsored by P&S Bakers group, entered the knock-out stage, with the quarter-final matches worked off with the seeded players moving through comfortably bar the thrilling cliff-hanger match between Jacob Norton Seeded 3 in the Silver Division and Varun Fernando (6th Seed) who fought all the way to take the match to the 20th hole, where Jacob prevailed.

Jacob Norton will meet second-seeded H.D. Adithya Weerasinghe (A’pura) who beat T. Deshan 6 & 4 comfortably. The top-seeded Reshan Algama beat Kaiyan Johnpillai convincingly 7 & 6, and will face fifth-seeded Jevahn Sathasivam who defeated fourth Seeded Keshav Algama with an easy 7 & 6 victory.

In the Gold Division, second-seeded Yannik Kumara withdrew after the qualifying round as he was scheduled to play in a tournament overseas and was not included in the match-play draw.

The top seed Haroon Aslam breezed through to the semi-final pulverizing W.G. Isurur  Shimal 9 & 7 and will meet Pranav Muralidharan the fourth seed who handsomely beat an experienced T. Vikash 7 & 6. In the bottom half of the Junior  Championship  Draw, second-seeded K. Danushan smashed Thenuk Sathnidu 8 & 7. He will play third seed Vinuka Weerasinghe who beat Yehan Kenthula 6 & 4.

In the Girls Gold Division number one seed Kaya Daluwatte will meet Yehani Perera who received a walk-over from Dhanushi Wanasinghe. Third seed Dhavinka Kanag-Isvaran beat R.M. Dinumi Sanjana 7 & 6 to set-up the second semi-final against second seed Sherin Balasuriya who also received a walk over from Sanduni Wanasinghe.

The Bronze Division Semi-Final clash between top seed Thejas Rathis Kanth and Keya Abhayarathne will be the feature battle. Keya Abhayarathne defeated Kaitlyn Norton 6 & 5 to set-up the semi-final match versus the top seed Thejas. In the bottom half of the draw second-seed Mohamed Saqeer Zuhar  will meet third-seeded Yehansa Senananayake.

In the Copper Division played over nine holes, Yuvan Rathis Kanth beat L.G. Anuja Methsara 6 & 4 to meet the second seed Jaeden Sathasivam whilst in the top half of the draw top seed Danik Daluwatte faces Taalia Silva.

The five semi-final matches scheduled for Thursday promise to be thrillers with the youngsters soaking in the pressure and performing well, adapting to the exciting Match-play format, that moulds the character of young golfers.

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Arjuna heads new Sports Council  

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Members of the newly appointed Sports Council pose with the Sports Minister

A new Sports Council was appointed by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday with World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking the reign as the head of the apex body.

The other members of the Sports Council are: Lieutenant General H.L.V.M. Liyanage, Air Marshal S.K. Pathirana, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Amal Edirisooriya, Maj. Gen. Rajitha Ampemohotti, Dr. Maiya Gunasekara, Shriyani Kulawansa, Ajith Pathirana, Sunil Jayaweera, Chrishantha Mendis, Lasitha Gunaratne, Nalinda Illangakoon, Sudath Chandrasekara, Sujani Bogollagama.

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NH bids adieu to Ladies’ College after 50-year stint as TT coach

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N.H Perera pictured with the Ladies’ College table tennis team players

By a Special Sports Correspondent

Former table tennis National Champion, National Coach and sporting legend N.H Perera probably set a record in the Sri Lankan school sporting arena when he retired from coaching Ladies’ College Colombo in the ping pong ball and racket game after serving this academic institute for 50 years.

NH, as he is fondly known in the table tennis circles, started coaching Ladies College back in 1972 following an invitation made to him by the teacher in charge of sports back then Delita Fernando. When he turns the pages of time the only reason that came to his mind to say yes to this coaching assignment was that he wanted to give something back to the sport. He was quite young then (21 to be exact) and had won the table tennis national singles crown twice (1968/70) by then. He recalled with fondness how the lasses from this school won the National School Games title in 2019.

He produced many outstanding female players from this school and the secret behind his success was him being a strict disciplinarian. At the time he said yes to coaching at Ladies’ College he had laid down a condition for the authorities of the school. That was to arrange practices in the morning. This was because he was gainfully employed in work done outside table tennis. This goes on to show the caliber of players in the golden years of the sport. A good many of them had the capacity to contribute to society using their brains and education unlike today where the players are forced to supplement their income through table tennis coaching. For the record, NH served several companies and institutes in many capacities; proving that engaging in competitive sport and showing commitment to employment are a possibility when the individual has the capacity to manage both. When he finally retired from work he held the post of Marketing Manager at United Arab Shipping Lines.

He had his education at Nalanda College and had the honour of being the first table tennis national captain to be produced by this academic institute.

He rates the 1970s as the golden era of the sport. “I say this because we were invited by the ITTF to contest the Afro Asian Latin American Table Tennis Championship in Peking, China. During his playing days, NH had beaten top players from Russia, China, and also Europe. The picture he sees now in Sri Lankan table tennis is not so rosy. “We even lost to Nepal at the last SA Games. I believe the TTASL must be dissolved and a Board of Control for Table Tennis must be formed instead. Today we see many coaches out there who cannot put the ball over the net,” said Perera.

NH sees more potential in the Sri Lanka female players. According to him, the women’s players from Sri Lanka had finished sixth at the previous Commonwealth Games. “I trust that the way forward would be to bring down a female table tennis coach and male trainer; both from China. This would raise the standard of our playing,” said Perera who many years ago qualified as a coach from the Peking University of China.

He also spoke about the psychological aspects to training players. NH underscored the importance of bringing in psychology to training to help players handle unexpected challenges in the game. “You have to do sessions to develop the minds of the players,” said Perera.

He is at present engaged in coaching the students at S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia. The school by the sea won the All Island Table Tennis Championships in 2019 under his guidance.

NH maintains high standards for his players and himself. He recalls an incident in the past; which occurred during the time he was young and already the national champion. “I was coming out of the YMCA training hall after training and a photographer asked me to pose for a picture. I was in slacks and this picture appeared in the newspaper. I was summoned to the TTASL and a top official asked me why I had disgraced the sport by not being properly attired for a photograph that appeared in a national newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson in life,” concluded Perera.

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