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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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Himasha’s ban extended to six years

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Himasha’s doping violation

by Reemus Fernando

The Appeals Committee of the Sri Lanka Anti-Doping Agency that heard sprinter Himasha Eshan’s appeal against his suspension, has decided to extend the ban against the former national 100 metres champion to six years.

SLADA has informed the athlete that the Appeals Committee had decided to extend the ban to six years after the appeal hearing conducted on November 3.

According to the letter sent by SLADA, Himasha will now be banned till 25th October 2027 which effectively closes the former national 100 metres record holder’s chances of competing for Sri Lanka again.

The 28-year-old was tested positive for a banned substance during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Disciplinary Committee of SLADA first banned him for four years from October 26, 2021 to October 25, 2025. That ban has now been extended by two years.It was the second time that the South Asian Games medallist has been found positive for a banned substance and he is also the only Sri Lankan athlete to be tested positive twice.

He was first found positive for a banned substances when he was 17 years old. He was slapped with a two year ban which was reduced considering his young age. The World Anti-Doping Agency introduced four years bans for first time offences in 2013. According to Anti Doping authorities any reduced terms are added to the suspension when an athlete is found positive for the second time.

This time Himasha was tested positive during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Anti-Doping authorities collected Himasha’s urine samples at the Army quarters at Narahenpita. He was involved in several impressive performances including a wind assisted 10.29 seconds feat to win the men’s 100 metres during the Army Athletics Championships which was held around that time.

Once the fastest man in the South Asian region, Himasha was coached by Chaminda Perera. He won the gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games and set a South Asian regional record of 10.22 seconds in 2019. He was also part of Sri Lanka’s 4×100 metres team that established the current national record in the 4×100 metres relay.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Al Nassr knocked out of Saudi Super Cup

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr were knocked of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday after a 3-1 semifinal loss to Al Ittihad in Riyadh.The 37-year-old Portugal international, five-times Ballon D’Or winner, had a couple of chances to score but was well shackled by the Al Ittihad defence for most of the match.

Anderson Talisca’s goal for Al Nassr in the 67th minute was not enough to turn around the deficit from two first-half goals for Al Ittihad from Romarinho and Abderrazak Hamdallah.

Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti added the third three minutes into stoppage time.Al Nassr next travel to Al Fateh in the Saudi Pro League on Feb. 3.

(ESPN)

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Stefanos Tsitsipas beats Karen Khachanov to reach final of Australian Open 2023

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Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas has another chance to land his first Grand Slam title after reaching the Australian Open final by beating Russian Karen Khachanov in the Melbourne last four.Third seed Tsitsipas, 24, won 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 against Khachanov, who was going for a maiden major final.Tsitsipas lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final and might have the chance to avenge that loss.

Serbia’s Djokovic plays American Tommy Paul in Friday’s other semi-final.Tsitsipas, who will become the world number one if he wins the title, eventually booked his place after recovering from Khachanov saving two match points in the third-set tie-break.

Another tight forehand saw a third chance disappear in what proved to be the final game, before he regained his composure to convert his fourth when a first serve was batted long by the 18th seed. Asked what he was thinking when the match went into a fourth set, Tsitsipas said: “I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get to this position.

“But if you stick around, dedicate yourself even more, and concentrate even more in the important moments it pays off.”

Nine-time champion Djokovic is the favourite to face Tsitsipas and takes on the unseeded Paul, who is competing in his first major semi-final, at 08:30 GMT on Friday.

The 35-year-old former world number one has won in Melbourne every time he has reached the last four and is aiming for a record-extending 10th title which would equal Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 major men’s titles. At a tournament with a hard-court surface on which he thrives, and in a city where he is warmly backed by its large Greek population, Tsitsipas has long appeared destined for success at the Australian Open.

The towering youngster announced his arrival there with a famous 2019 win over defending champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, only for a captivating run to be ended when he was crushed by Rafael Nadal in his first semi-final appearance.

Long-time rival Daniil Medvedev ended his dreams at the last-four stage in both 2021 and 2022, with another Russian – this time, the powerful Khachanov – standing in his way this time.

Backed by a vocal crowd who waved Greek flags after virtually all of his winning points, Tsitsipas started confidently against a player who he had beaten in all of their five previous encounters.

Khachanov could not cope with Tsitsipas’ pounding ground-strokes and dynamic athleticism as the world number four moved two sets ahead.

When Tsitsipas broke early in the third set and moved into a 5-4 lead which left him serving for the match, few on Rod Laver Arena expected anything other than a straight-set win.However, nerves kicked in for Tsitsipas, who suddenly looked unsure with his ground-strokes, and Khachanov cut loose to extend the contest.

After a bathroom break before the fourth set, Tsitsipas returned free of the weight of expectation and broke Khachanov’s serve at the first opportunity.Dominant service games from that point ensured there would be no repeat of the previous set as he finally reached the final of what he calls his “home” Grand Slam event.

“I feel blessed for the fact I’m able to play tennis at this level and for many years I’ve wanted to put Greek tennis on the map – Maria [Sakkari] and I have done that, I think,” Tsitsipas said.

“Coming from a small country like Greece I feel so grateful I get support like this.

“I never thought I would be treated so well here so I’m extremely happy I’m in the final now – let’s see what happens.”

(BBC Sports)

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