Yamani Dulanjali competing at a selection trial before the Youth Asian Championships at Diyagama. (Pic RF)
Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part V
by Reemus Fernando
When the Athletics Championship of the All Island Schools Games was held on a grass track at Beliatta (just a couple of months after the US citizen Christine Merrill competed in the 400 metres hurdles for Sri Lanka at the London Olympics) in 2012, there were some amazing performances that put to shame the records created on synthetic tracks. Of them all, the prowess of an unassuming little girl in the Under-15 age category was not to be missed. Clad in sleeveless top and running shorts, the girl from Ambagamuwa would line up for the heats without an iota of hesitation, win the heat, the semi final and the final. That sequence continued in all three individual events she took part in. She left the Games with three Under 15 titles, not knowing that she would continue such a sequence in a couple of years’ time, in a different event, the 400 metres hurdles at a top Asian Youth meet in Doha. One would expect such talent to blossom beautifully and win at international level when they reaching senior level.
She is 23-years-old now and has joined the multitude of former school athletes shouldering their family burdens.
Some junior athletes who produce outstanding performances at school level wither their performances at senior level. That is largely blamed on the inability of school coaches who peak their athletes prematurely. Yamani Dulanjali was not trained by an armature, who needed sudden results to boost his coaching career. She was still peaking when she last took part in a championship. The coach had the experience of meticulously guiding the destiny of one of Asia’s most successful 400 metres runners, Sugath Thilakaratne, who not only won in Asia but also excelled at world level.
It was not a drop in performances that caused her to quit. She suddenly disappeared from the radar. Hailing from an underprivileged family Yamani received the necessary support from Anura Bandara and Ambagamuwa Central to shape herself into one of the best of her age category in Sri Lanka. She was blessed with the natural ability to shine whatever the event she was introduced to. At Beliatta she competed in the 100m, 200m and 400 metres. With the first ever Asian Youth Athletics Championships to be held in Doha, Bandara groomed her for a new discipline, the 400 metres hurdles. That paid rich dividend as she started establishing age group records in the All Island Schools Games, Junior National Championships and the John Tarbet Senior Athletics Championships.
Yamani Dulanjali was hardly challenged at All Island Schools Games.(Pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)
Sri Lanka Athletics selectors had little doubt that Yamani would do something special when she was selected for the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Doha in 2015. Unfortunately, she could not take part in the 400 metres flat event due to a technical difficulty, but clocked the fastest time in the heats in the 400 metres hurdles. In the final she (61.27 seconds) finished ahead of China’s Qui Zhangyen to win the gold. Kazakhstan’s Adelina Akhmetova who would win medals at senior Asian level later finished third. She was still in the development age but she had proved beyond doubt that she has the potential to become a future star, an Olympian who could probably compete in the 400 metres hurdles.
She was the only gold medalist for Sri Lanka in that meet. Now, that championship is three editions old and her medal remains the only gold that Sri Lanka has won at the championships.
Back at home, there were huge expectations. To her parents she was the next Sriyani Kulawansa. But sadly, there were no dividends. The life went on. Bandara continued to do his part and Yamani improved her timing within the next couple of years. When the time came for her to pull the curtain down on her glittering school career Yamani did it in style. When she left both the Schools Under-20 400 metres (55.29 secs) and the 400 metres hurdles () records were against her name.
With no room for the likes of Yamani Dulanjali to fully blossom, the institutions like the Sports Ministry and the National Olympic Committee can look for talent elsewhere to form Sri Lanka teams for Olympics.
Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony
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.
Sri Lanka on course for consolation win
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.
Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics
Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII
by Reemus Fernando
The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.
“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.
Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.”
“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.
Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.
After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.
Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”
However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.
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