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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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A championship in November might hurt athletes’ preparation for next year’s key events

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by Reemus Fernando  

Sri Lanka Army’s decision to schedule their flagship athletics event to November is likely to hurt top athletes’ preparations for next year’s major international events. The Army’s decision has come just a couple of weeks after Sri Lanka Athletics decided to windup the pandemic plagued season in October to allow enough time for off season as top athletes will have several crucial international competitions in 2022 including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

“Sri Lanka Athletics took the decision to conclude the season with the remainder of the National Championship in October in consultation with coaches as we have a busy schedule in 2022. Most of the coaches whose athletes had already completed their National Championship disciplines had started off-season training when the Army decided out of the blues to conduct their championship in November,” a senior coach told The Island.

Most of the top track and field athletes of the country are employed by Sri Lanka Army and athletes are bound to give equal prominence to the Army Athletics Championship. However, preparing them for the championship in November is likely to derail training plans of coaches who are eager to bring the best out of their athletes at two major international events in 2022.

Not having a proper Competition Calendar has been a problem that has hurt track and field athletes for decades now. Though Sri Lanka Athletics continue to announce their competition calendar in advance other stakeholders in the sport including the tri forces and the Sports Ministry have at times failed to announce theirs.

True the Covid 19 pandemic has hampered all schedules but it is important that all stake holders come together to take decisions vital for national athletics.

Despite the Covid 19 pandemic hampering sports events, Sri Lanka Athletics conducted a number of disciplines of the National Championship 2021 at the first leg in May to give opportunities for athletes who are closer to earn Olympic qualifying standards. The remaining legs of the National Championship 2021 which were rescheduled several times due to the pandemic will now be held on October 30 and 31.

The track and field governing body which will celebrate its centenary year in 2022 is eager to prepare strong teams for both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as it has not experienced medal success at these championships for years now. Country has won 46 medals at the Asian Games. Of them 27 are from track and field sports. From the 11 gold medals it has won in the history of the Games ten have come from track and field. However, Sri Lanka has not won a medal in track and field after the men’s 4×400 metres relay team won a bronze in 2006. Sri Lanka has won only three track and field medals at the Commonwealth Games but non during the last two decades.

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MJ to work as consultant during World Cup

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Sri Lanka’s ICC T20 World Cup campaign has received a massive boost after former captain Mahela Jayawardene agreed to work with the team as a consultant during the tournament.

MJ will not be available for the entire campaign as his stint will last just one week, which means he will be only available for the qualifying round. He will not be available beyond the games against Namibia, Ireland and Netherlands.

SLC also stated that MJ has accepted a consultancy role with Sri Lanka Under-19 team for a period of five months lead up to next year’s ICC Under-19 World Cup. He will be working alongside his former SSC team mate Avishka Gunawardene, who is the Head Coach of the Under-19 side.

MJ known as a brilliant tactician in the game was one of Sri Lanka’s most successful captains across all forms of cricket. He was skipper when Sri Lanka won overseas Test matches in England, New Zealand and West Indies. He was also captain when Sri Lanka blanked England 5-0 in their own backyard. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2012.

Since retiring from the game, he’s been a highly sought after coach having guided Mumbai Indians for multiple IPL titles and having worked with the England team as a consultant.

Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur welcomed the appointment. “I have worked with Mahela before and really looking forward to having him with us. He is one of the best cricket brains I have worked with and just very excited to have him with us,” he told The Island.

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Sri Lanka Athletics gives priority to Asian Games

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by Reemus Fernando

 Sri Lanka Athletics will give priority to Asian Games over the Commonwealth Games as the two major sports events take place within five weeks from each other in 2022. The track and field governing body indicated their priorities at a meeting with the National Olympic Committee yesterday.

“Our best chances are at the Asian Games. We are trying to get the best out of the talent we have. To achieve that we have set our priorities right. Though we are going to select a team for both events at the same stage we might not send some athletes for the Commonwealth Games,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics told The Island after a meeting with the NOC yesterday.

“For example our best chances for the men’s 4×400 metres relay team is at the Asian Games. We might not field that team for the Commonwealth Games,” Saman Kumara, the statistician of Sri Lanka Athletics said.

“In 2002 we had both the Commonwealth Games (July 25- August 4) and the Asian Games within a span of two months. We had three men who could run 400 metres in 45 seconds. We had the best chance of winning the 4×400 metres gold in Busan but the Commonwealth Games had its toll on the runners when the time came for the Asian Games,” said Saman Kumara who has experience as both a selector and manager of teams for these games.

While the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be held from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host Asian Games from September 10 to 25.

“We are almost certain of fielding a men’s 4×100 metres relay team for the Commonwealth Games provided they meet selection criteria. The men’s 4×400 metres relay team will be reserved for the Asian Games.”

Though medal prospects are dim in track events at the Commonwealth Games, Sri Lanka’s men’s 4×100 metres relay team consisting of Himasha Eshan, Shehan Ambepitiya, Vinoj Suranjaya and Mohamed Ashrafu had a memorable outing at the last edition in Gold Coast where they established the current national record clocking 39.08 seconds.

That record will be in danger now with Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improving the national record this year and showing the ability to further improve the record.

Sri Lanka Athletics will update the current elite and national pools after concluding the remaining events of the National Championship at the end of next month. That pool will be maintained till March 2022 when the teams for both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are selected. The centenary National Championships in 2022 April (8,9,10) will be the final selection trial for both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lanka Athletics will also target forming a mixed relay team for the Asian Games as there are two strong contenders to fill the women’s spots in Nadeesha Ramanayake and Dilshi Kumarasainghe. While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana are the front runners for the men’s sports in the mixed relay, the next few months will be crucial for the rest of the sprinters aspiring to win a place in the team for the men’s 4×400 metres relay.

Given their current form, the 100 metres, 400 metres, 4x100metres, 4×400 metres, high jump, long jump, and javelin throw, in the men’s category, 800 metres, steeplechase, long jump, and marathon in the women’s category and the mixed relay are the disciplines in which athletes have shown potential in reaching qualifying standards.

Sri Lanka has won the majority of Asian Games medals in track and field events though the country has not witnessed medal success after the men’s 4×400 metres quartet of Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and  Ashoka Jayasundara won the bronze in 2006 in Doha. Since 2006 the country has won only two medals, both in cricket.

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