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Talents of Sumedha, Waruna wasted

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by Reemus Fernando

When the former national record holder in the men’s javelin throw, Sachith Maduranga suddenly announced a premature retirement from athletics he said that he was ‘thoroughly disappointed the way higher authorities managed the sports affairs of the country.’ He was just 23 and had an Asian Athletics Championship medal and a national record against his name. His best performance was good enough to earn Olympic qualification by then standards. Eight years after the former Army athlete quit, country’s top throwers are probably experiencing the same predicament. The only difference is that they are not venting their frustration the way Maduranga did.

Waruna Lakshan and Sumedha Ranasinghe have both thrown distances further than Maduranga and are throwers who are good enough to challenge counterparts from other countries who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics which is starting in a couple of weeks.

The two leading national throwers were ranked among the top 100 athletes in the world by December 2020. The national record holder and Rio Olympic participant Sumedha Ranasinghe was ranked 30th in the world while Waruna Lakshan was ranked 75th in the world then. It should be noted here that both Ranasinghe (83.04m) and Lakshan (82.19m) have some outstanding feats as their personal best performances.

By the time the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics ended on June 29, Ranasinghe had been ranked 45th in the Road to Olympic Rankings. Between December 2020 to June 2021 the two throwers had only the local competitions to take part. Ranasinghe got an opportunity to take part in the 60th Interstate Athletics Championship in the eleventh hour. The more than 30 hour long journey had taken its toll on Sumedha when he finally took the javelin in Patiala. Despite that he reached his seasonal best of 77.28 metres on the last day of the qualifying period. Waruna who too was to compete in India was axed from the team after authorities put pressure on Sri Lanka Athletics to reduce numbers.

When Waruna competed last in May at the Sugathadasa Stadium he had just received the first jab of the vaccine and was feeling ill. Yet he threw the javelin to a distance of 75.91 metres. While their counterparts in other countries took part in quality competitions country’s top athletes seeking Olympic qualification did not get that opportunity.

The present day qualifying standards for Olympics are tough but they are achievable if proper competition opportunities are made available to compensate systematic training. Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon could obtain a world ranking quota for Olympics due to the top grade competitions he took part in. He needed just one good Diamond League performance to break into the higher echelon of world rankings.

It is incumbent upon authorities to make these competitions available to local athletes who strive to achieve top rankings. Otherwise they would be leaving room for athletes to feel the same disappointment felt by Maduranga eight years ago.

As Maduranga said in his last press conference in 2013, the problem is not the absence of talent.

 



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Sports

Uncle Percy is 85 today

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by Rex Clementine  

Cheerleader Percy Abeysekara turns 85 today. In his own words, ‘two years younger than Sir Garry Sobers and fitter than Sobers.’  

 Percy has been around cricket grounds cheering his beloved Sri Lanka and his favourite players for over 50 years now. Percy has many high profile friends in the sport.  

 Former India captain Ravi Shastri once wrote, ‘Percy, don’t lose your voice. Sri Lanka needs it more than you.’  

 Former New Zealand captain late Martin Crowe once gave away his Man of the Match award to Percy.  

 Once Percy was arrested in Australia; for entering the field of play. Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist protested. ‘Don’t make this an international crisis,’ they warned. Percy has friends even in the Aussie dressing room.  

 Cops in Australia are hard-nosed. They apparently give too hoots about what their Prime Minister thinks when it comes to implementing the law. But the few hours that Percy spent with them made them realize that this was not an overenthusiastic cricket fan. This is someone who had seen Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey et al.  

 Percy then asked the cops whether they knew the best advice Vic Richardson, Australia’s former captain gave his grandson Ian Chappell. They said no. ‘If you ever get a chance to captain Australia, don’t do it like a Victorian.’   

Now the arrest happened in the tiny city of Hobart in the small state of Tasmania. The cops actually were having a laugh that an outsider was taking a dig at a larger state. Percy knew the Aussie mentality.  

 He didn’t stop there. He quoted Shakespeare and Donne and the cops were overwhelmed. Not only was he let off without being charged, the cops were also seen taking pictures with Percy, an international icon.  

 Percy’s wit is his best friend.  

 Once a fan shouted. ‘Percy go home.’  

 Percy asked, Your home’  

 Once late Gamini Dissanayake asked, ‘Percy, why don’t you join the Cricket Board.’  

 Percy said, ‘Sir, there are three palanas I don’t like.  

One is Cricket palana.  

The second is deshapalana.  

The third is upath palana.’   

JR Jayewardene, another President of the board had also asked the same question a few years back. Percy replied him poetically. ‘Sir, I would rather be on the footboard than the Cricket Board.’  

 Here’s a man who has brought smiles to many cricket fans and players. We wish Uncle Percy well.

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Yupun, Nimali expected to provide solace

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by Reemus Fernando

When the men’s 10,000 metres was held at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Sri Lanka’s Ranatunga Karunananda was the last to finish but he won the admiration of the hosts. His courageous run to complete the race after the winners had been decided, epitomize the Olympic creed- the most important thing is not to win but to take part. Like Karunananda, Yupun Abeykoon and Nimali Liyanarachchi are not among the top athletes in their disciplines but could take inspiration from the late athlete’s 1964 story when they compete against odds in their respective disciplines.

After witnessing the country’s wildcard entrants being eliminated from the first round in other sports during the last few days, sprinter Yupun Abeykoon and middle distance runner Nimali Liyanarachchi are expected to provide some solace when track and field sports of the Tokyo Olympics starts today.

Nimali Liyanarachchi has a huge burden on her shoulder to change things around when she competes in the women’s 800 metres today.

“Her preparations were hampered due to Covid 19 restrictions. I am banking on her fighting qualities to try and achieve her best performance here,” Nimali’s coach Sujith Abeysekara said in a telephone interview with The Island from Tokyo yesterday.

Nimali will compete in heat four where World Championship silver medallist Raevyn Rogers is the favourite. The US runner has run most of her races under two minutes. Nimali’s seasonal best of 2:03.15 seconds is at odds with her true potentials. But looking back at the hurdles she overcame to earn a wildcard for Olympics, the mere presence of the Sooriyawewa damsel in Tokyo itself is a victory and an encouragement for numerous underprivileged girls from outstations.

She was bedridden after meeting with an accident on the eve of Sri Lanka team’s departure to the South Asian Games in 2019. She spent a better part of the 2020 season on her recovery and when she was just getting ready to compete there were no competitions. On this backdrop even a seasonal best performance at today’s event will be a victory.

Five of her rivals in heat four have run the discipline under two minutes recently and it will be a tough ask for her to advance from the heat. Hence a seasonal best performance would be a realistic target.

Meanwhile, when the world search for a new Olympic champion in the men’s 100 metres after one and half decades, Sri Lanka’s track and field fans will want South Asian 100 metres record holder Yupun to advance from the heats.

Yupun in a social media post said that his goal was to be pressure free and try to advance to the next round. Abeykoon established a new Sri Lanka and South Asian record when he clocked 10.15 seconds in May and produced an outstanding fourth place finish at the Rome Diamond League in June to book a top rank in the world. In his post Yupun also reminded his fans of his Diamond League feat. “I hope everyone remembers the Diamond League I last participated. A lot of things can change in a race that ends between nine to ten seconds. I believe in my abilities and training. I will compete to get a good result.”

Abeykoon will compete in the men’s 100 metres heats on Saturday.

Track and field, the premier Olympic sport will feature many first round events today. However today’s only medal event (final) is the men’s 10,000 metres where Uganda’s world record-holder Joshua Cheptegei and world-leader Jacob Kiplimo are the men to beat.

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Sri Lanka eye series win after restricting India to 81

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By Rex Clementine

Birthday boy Wanindu Hasaranga is emerging to be a top class match winner as he claimed career best figures of four for nine on his 24th birthday to help Sri Lanka reduce India to 81 for eight in the third and final T-20 International at RPS yesterday.

It was India’s lowest total against Sri Lanka and their third lowest total in T-20 cricket. 

It was a day where Sri Lanka did not do much wrong with fielders backing up the bowlers with some outstanding catching.  

India needed captain Shikhar Dhawan to score big with half their regulars, close contacts of Krunal Pandya who tested for COVID, in isolation. However, Dhawan departed in the first over and India never recovered from thereon.

Dushmantha Chameera was on the money from the start drawing the Indian captain for a drive and Dhananjaya de Silva at wide slip completed  the catch.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka raised his game remarkably. Terribly out of form with the bat, Shanaka did the job with the ball having brought himself on midway through India’s innings. He took a spectacular left-handed diving catch to dismiss Nitish Rana.

The rest of the bowling was impeccable too keeping up the pressure making run scoring difficult and it looked India were content to bat out the 20 overs to try and see what total they can get at.

Kuldeep Yadav at number seven top scored with an unbeaten 23 that came off 28 balls while Bhuvneshwar Kumar made 16. Opener Ruturaj Gaikwad was the only other to get into double figures as India lacked momentum throughout their innings.

The early damage was done by Hasaranga as India batsmen struggled to pick his straight delivery and were adjudged leg before wicket.

Sri Lanka are set for an easy win and this will be their first ever series victory over India in the shortest format of the game in eight attempts.

Caption: Wanindu Hasaranga claimed career  best figures of four for nine as India were restricted for 81 for eight in the  third T-20 International at RPS yesterday.

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