Yupun’s rise calls for top grade competitions for deserving athletes
by Reemus Fernando
National men’s 100 metres record holder Yupun Abeykoon climbed to the 40th position in the world rankings after the World Athletics updated the event rankings last week. Despite finishing ninth at the last Diamond League final in Zurich (September 9), the Italy based sprinter has climbed five places up in the world rankings highlighting the importance of participating in top grade competitions. What has helped Abeykoon maintain a world rank above 50 in a highly competitive track and field discipline is something that country’s sports authorities should study seriously as there are at least half a dozen others who could emulate him in other disciplines in athletics if they are given similar exposure.
To begin with, the credit for Yupun’s improvement and the laudable world ranking position should be given to his team in Italy. They had prepared the ground work for him to take part in competitions in Europe. Systematic training and top-grade competitions was the key for him to improve on his world rankings. That enabled him to represent Sri Lanka at the Tokyo Olympics.
Yupun broke into the top 100 in the world only in late May. He clocked 10.15 seconds at the Centro Sportivo Fontanassa, Savona, Italy. On May 31st he was ranked 79th and by late June he was occupying a position in the top 50 (49). It took only one good performance at a top-grade competition for him to break in to the top 50. On June 10th, Yupun clocked 10.16 to be placed fourth at the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea. That feat earned him 1292 points and secured his ticket to the Olympics. By late July Yupun was ranked 54th but after the Diamond League final in Zurich where he was placed ninth Yupun moved up again.
He has overtaken Japan’s Ryota Yamagata, France’s Jimmy Vicaut, Slovakia’s Jan Volko, China’s Zhiqiang Wu and USA’s Chris Royster and Christopher Belcher to be ranked 40th in the world, a position that would auger well for him ahead of a World Championship year.
It was not only the impressive performances that have helped the 26-year-old secure a top position in world rankings but also the grade of the competitions where he executed them.
Gone are the days when you could punch your ticket to the Olympics and World Championships with sheer speed or top performances. The latest qualifying system introduced for such events require athletes to perform consistently at top grade competitions and reach top world rankings to qualify for events. The World Ranking system arguably favours the athletes competing in the European circuit and athletes taking part in competitions like the Diamond League. For an example, in the pandemic plagued season there had been 90 athletes who had produced faster times than Yupun in the world in men’s 100 metres but the latter was able secure a higher ranking by the end of the season as he had produced his most impressive performances at competitions which guarantee higher points.
By the last weekend, Japan’s Ryota Yamagata, who is one of only two Asians to have produced sub 10 seconds this season was ranked 41st, , one point behind Yupun. And two compatriots of Yamagata who are yet to clock sub 10 seconds this season have much higher world ranks of 24 (Shuhei Tada) and 36 (Yoshihide Kiryu).
Yupun’s impressive rise has given enough evidence to prove that country’s top athletes could benefit if they are exposed to top grade competitions. However, it is easier said than done. Just prior to the Olympics Sri Lanka Athletics struggled to find top competitions for country’s Olympic hopefuls. By May, the US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka was on the cusps of earning an Olympic berth with a remarkable personal best of 2.30 metres. Sri Lanka Athletics’ attempts to find him a berth in a Diamond League competition in a bid to get him qualified for Olympics found futile as the Diamond League competitions the governing body was looking for ‘were already overbooked’.
The world has seen only 25 athletes going over the bar at 2.30 metres or above this year in the men’s high jump. Thivanka is one of them. He was so good this season that he could have finished joint eighth at the Olympics with his best feat (which was in May-2.30m) had he been selected for the quadrennial event on merit of his 2.30 metres produced in May. The World Athletics qualifying system has frowned on many such athletes who could not compete at top grade competitions to improve their rankings.
It is incumbent upon World Athletics to provide equal opportunities for athletes of all regions in the world to gain top competition exposure while local authorities need to get their act together to lobby for top competitions for their athletes. The likes of Nilani Ratnayake (steeplechase), Nadeesha Ramanayake (400m), Nimali Liyanarachchi (800m) and Dilshi Kumarasinghe (800m, 400m) in the women’s category, sprinters Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana, throwers, Sumedha Ranasinghe and Waruna Lakshan and Ushan Thivanka in the men’s category and several other athletes were craving for top competitions to improve their rankings ahead of the Olympics. They will be heading for the same predicament ahead of World Championships in 2022 if authorities fail to find answers to the problems they faced ahead of Olympics.
Track and field action from Diyagama
The Track and Field season commenced with some of the best athletes in the senior and Under 20 age categories producing notable performances during the two-day Junior and Senior Selection Trial concluded at Diyagama on Tuesday. Here are some action pictures from the day two of the event.
(Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi)
Dharshana’s false start dampen an otherwise remarkable day
by Reemus Fernando
Sprinter Aruna Dharshana gave athletics fans both joy and heartache on an otherwise remarkable day as the Junior and Senior Track and Field trials concluded with a number of athletes achieving their personal bests at Diyagama yesterday.
Athletics analysts were waiting for Dharshana to reach his personal best in the men’s 400 metres final after the Army athlete produced the best performance in the heats where as many as five athletes clocked sub 47 seconds. When Dharshana followed up his 200 metres winning time of 21.12 seconds with a feat of 46.43 seconds in the 400 metres many expected him to produce a sub 46 seconds performance in the final.
But the shocking foul start meant that he will have to wait for more than a month to test his true potential. Incidentally, Kalinga Kumarage, who was off-colour in the heats (47.51 secs – second in heat 3) won the final with a feat of 46.27 seconds. However, 100 metres sprinter Medhani Jayamanne who was disqualified for a foul start in the women’s 100 metres heats was not so unlucky, as athletics officials gave her an opportunity to compete in the women’s 100 metres final, though her place was (2nd) not recognised. She clocked 12.16 seconds in the final.
In Dharshana’s absence four others, namely, Kumarage, R.N. Rajakaruna, Dinuka Deshan and Pabasara Niku clocked sub 47 seconds.
In the corresponding women’s 400 metres, schoolgirl Tharushi Karunaratne continued to shock her senior counterparts. Having won the women’s 800 metres on day one, the Ratnayake Central prodigy also bagged the 400 metres victory as she clocked 53.41 seconds to beat Asian Championship participant Nadeesha Ramanayake.
In the men’s 100 metres Chamod Yodasinghe reached his personal best as he clocked 10.37 seconds to win the final.
In the women’s 100 metres final, Rumeshika Ratnayake clocked 12.01 seconds to win running against the wind (-2.9). In the heats, she clocked sub 12 seconds.
In the morning, Gayanthika Abeyratne finished the women’s 1500 metres just three seconds shy of her national record mark as she clocked 4:12.53 seconds to win closely followed by steeplechase national record holder Nilani Ratnayake. Abeyratne’s national record established last year stands at 4:09.12 seconds.
In the Under 20 age category events Malith Yasiru produced the second-best performance of the Asian region in the Under 20 boys’ triple jump this year when he cleared a distance of 15.43 metres to win the event.
Sri Lankan sailing teams compete in Pakistan
The Sri Lankan national team of two sailors and one windsurfer, with the Navy team of a sailor and a windsurfer, were invited to participate at the first Chief of Navy Staff International Sailing Regatta 2023 held from March 14 to 20 in Karachi, Pakistan. Twelve countries including Australia, Bahrain, Croatia, Egypt, China, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey had sent their teams to Karachi. The Sri Lankan national team consisted of Laser Standard sailor (ILCA 7) NGMU Ghanawardene, Sri Lanka Navy, Priyantha Gunawardene, Sri Lanka Navy participating in the Windsurfing RSX Class and Laser 4.7 (ILCA 4) sailor Tharen Nanayakkara. The Navy team consisted of Laser Standard sailor (ILCA 7) JMPL Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka Navy and WAS Weeratunge, Sri Lanka Navy participating in the Windsurfing RSX Class.
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