Connect with us

Sports

Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler

Published

on

Tokyo Olympics – 8 days to go

by Reemus Fernando  

The 400 metres hurdles, a discipline in which the country won its first Olympic medal has lost its popularity from being probably the most popular track discipline in 1948 to be the least-interested athletics event among school children today. The lack of facilities and neglect by officials at Divisional and Zonal level is contributing to making the event less attractive and killing the interest of potential athletes who could one day win medals at the international level.  From lack of knowledge of coaches to train the technical event to lack of proper facilities (grounds), there could have been many other factors that had contributed to making the track discipline less appealing but there had been a number of athletes who have beaten the odds to win medals at the junior international level, proving that it is not a case of the dearth of talent.

After Duncan White won the country’s first medal at the 1948 London Olympics it took more than half a century for a Sri Lankan male even to earn an Olympic berth in that discipline. It also took more than five decades since Independence for a Sri Lankan male to win a 400 metres hurdles medal outside the South Asian region. In 2000 Harian Ratnayake won the Asian Athletics Championship silver and became the first Sri Lankan since Duncan White to take part in an Olympic 400 metres hurdles. Despite being the first Sri Lankan to run the distance under 50 seconds and winning silver at the Asian Championships, Ratnayake could not find a place in the semi-finals at the Sydney Olympics. Saudi Arabia’s Hadi Al-Somaily, Asia’s fastest that year went on to win a rare silver.

The 400 metres hurdle has been dominated by athletes from English speaking countries at the Olympics. While the competition among the English speaking countries has made the event faster than it had been a half-century ago, the standard of Sri Lanka’s 400 metres hurdles have remained stagnated.

When White finished second behind Leroy Cochran of the USA at the London Olympics he was just 0.07 seconds behind the winner who established a new Olympic record. The then world record was 50.6 seconds. During the last 73 years the world record has been improved by nearly four seconds. On the first of this month, the Norwegian champion Karsten Warholm broke the world record with a feat of 46.70 seconds (the record is subjected to World Athletics ratification).

The country’s national record of 49.44 seconds held by Ratnayake is more than two decades old now. Ratnayake, trained by S.M.G. Bandara and Asian Games medallist (relay) Asoka Jayasundara, trained by Sunil Gunawardena are the only athletes to have clocked sub 50 seconds in that discipline. The country’s top-level athletes today are much slower than the duo who won at the Asian level in their heyday.  At World Level more than 90 athletes clocked sub 50 seconds this year. Of them, 19 are from Asia. Sri Lanka’s fastest 400 metres hurdler this year is not even among the best 50 in Asia.

“Most of the current 400 metres hurdlers are athletes who had taken up the event after joining the Army. The motor abilities of an athlete have to be developed from a young age if he is to become a good hurdler. It takes years of training to become a good hurdler. Not many who take up hurdling at school level persevere,” says Asoka Jayasundara, the Asian Games medalist who trains several hurdlers.

The reason that many athletes do not take up 400 metres hurdles at school level could be attributed to the absence of facilities at the grass-root level. The vast majority of the country’s Divisional and Zonal schools athletics competitions are conducted on 200 metres tracks, which makes it impossible to conduct a proper 400 metres hurdles event. What the majority of organizers of Divisional meets do is to promote the few athletes who have applied for the event to the Zonal level. It is at the Divisional level that a young athlete first sees the event live. At a majority of Zonal meets too athletes competing in the 400 metres hurdles are given turns to run on a single set of hurdles. After finishing their turn, they wait around the timekeepers till all complete their turns to see who has produced the fastest time.

To be continued……….



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

What you can learn from Sidath  

Published

on

By Rex Clementine  

Cricket selectors in Australia are ruthless.  In certain other parts of the world they are toothless. Steve Waugh had won the World Cup in 1999 and the Ashes two times in 2001 and 2003 when Trevor Hohns, (who had played only seven Tests by the way), called up Waugh and told him that his time was up. Waugh, with a massive fan following, resisted but Hohns made sure that Australia’s most successful captain was neither there for the World Cup defence in 2003 nor for retaining the Ashes in 2005.  

Everything didn’t go well for the Aussies. Under new captain Ricky Ponting they lost the Ashes in 2005 as England regained the urn after 16 years. But Hohns didn’t go after Waugh begging him to fix things. Perseverance in all walks of life is important. In cricket too. Eventually, Ponting turned things around for the Aussies. The next Ashes, Aussies blanked the Poms 5-0. Patience also matters along with perseverance.  

Selectors in our backyard made a hue and cry pinning all faults on Angelo Mathews for repeated failures of the national cricket team. Three weeks later, when the team suffered a first ever series defeat against Bangladesh, they went begging to Mathews asking him to return to the side. Mathews asked them to go and fly a kite.  

There is nothing wrong in trying out younger players and rotating seniors or even dropping them. Even the great Muttiah Muralitharan was dropped. But you have got to do it smoothly with transparency. Burning bridges is not the way. You don’t have to look at Australia as to how it should be done but we have classic examples in our backyard itself. Sidath Wettimuny is the bloke’s name.  

Wettimuny took on bigger players than this. It must have been harder for him for the players he took on were his one-time team mates. But once he had the courage to take on the big boys, he was firm with his decisions. He knew that youth was important but youth who are agile.  

Soon after the axing of Arjuna, Aravinda et al after the disastrous World Cup campaign in 1999, one thing he insisted on was excellence on fielding. So he picked someone by the name of Chamara Silva.  He was just 19 at that time but took on the likes of McGrath and Warne and posted a crucial half-century during the tri-nation tournament that Sri Lanka went onto win, less than two months after Australia had won the World Cup.  

Silva was electric on the field. So was Indika de Saram, who was picked out of the blues. A few months later, he would introduce one T.M.  Dilshan. All superb fielders. Of course there was Sanath Jayasuriya as captain who led the side from the front and he himself was a gun fielder.  

Right now what we have is a young side, but their fielding is so sloppy. They are probably the worst in the world. It is embarrassing to see the young Sri Lankans misfield. The captain has so many players to hide. There is Bhanuka Rajapaksa, there is Kasun Rajitha, there is Lakshan Sandakan and the list goes on. Surely, you expect paid selectors to do a better job. Right now, they have little clue and they have failed to do their home work. In the second ODI, where Sri Lanka snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they conceded more than 25 runs due to sloppy fielding. 

In 1999, a few months after beating World Champions Australia, Sri Lanka went to Pakistan, one of the toughest places to tour. They whitewashed a strong Pakistan side 3-0 in the ODIs. Wettimuny’s youth policy was working.  The nation was thrilled. Youth was the way forward the fans said. But Wettimuny did not get carried away. He recalled Arjuna and Aravinda for the Tests despite some opposition. Wettimuny knew that in Test match cricket, Pakistan would be a different beast.  

Skipper Jayasuriya could have resisted going back to the seniors but he did not. He let his ego aside and did what was best for the team welcoming both seasoned campaigners back to the fold.  

As expected, Pakistan tested Sri Lanka. It needed a battle hardened Arjuna Ranatunga to bat with a broken thumb to help his team over the line in Rawalpindi. That was one of the classic Test matches that has ever been played. It was made possible by the clever moves of Wettimuny. 

In a time of crisis you need a selector who is calm, responsible and who is not vindictive. This is not the first time the system has been shaken up. It had been done before. But then the risk taking was smart. Now it has been reckless. You need a father figure in this time of crisis to help smooth sailing. Not a bull in a China shop.  And of course, class matters.  

Continue Reading

Sports

Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

Published

on

by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

Continue Reading

Sports

Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

Published

on

Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

Continue Reading

Trending