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Yupun’s rise calls for top grade competitions for deserving athletes

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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.



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Gateway felicitates coach for making Sri Lanka proud 

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Gateway’s top coaches Tharindu Fernando, Thilanka Jinadasa and Pradeep Nishantha are pictured here

Pradeep Nishantha, Assistant Head of Sports of Gateway College Colombo was felicitated by the school for his remarkable contribution in producing two medal winners at the recently concluded Paralympic Games in Japan.

The national anthem was played for the very first time at an Olympics when Dinesh Priyantha Herath who was trained by Pradeep Nishantha won a gold medal with a new world record. Pradeep has been employed at Gateway since 2005 and he has been responsible for producing many national athletes from Gateway.

Gateway students are blessed to be coached and guided by professionals of the highest caliber. Thilaka Jinadasa, the Team Leader – Sports development for the entire group represented Sri Lanka in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

Among Gateway’s team of coaches are a number of top Sri Lankan coaches. Tharindu Fernando, who was recently appointed National Basketball Coach for the Under 23 Sri Lankan side is among them.

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Dialog and SLC release T20 World Cup song ‘Ape Kollo’ 

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Amali Nanayakkara, Group Chief Marketing Officer, Dialog Axiata PLC hands over the first CD of the ‘Ape Kollo’ song to Dr. Jayantha Dharmadasa, Vice President, SLC. Also in picture artistes and Dialog brand ambassadors who performed the ‘Ape Kollo’ song, (L-R) Madhuvy, Sanka Dineth, Sanuka, Sajitha, Santhush, Upul Nawaratne Bandara, Head of Marketing, SLC, Harsha Samaranayake, Senior General Manager, Brand and Media – Group Marketing, Dialog Axiata PLC, Bathiya, Umaria, Senali and guest performer, Roy. Absent - Yohan

The national cricket team’s sponsor and Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata, together with Sri Lanka Cricket, recently released ‘Ape Kollo’ the T20 World Cup song in support of the Team on their T20 World Cup campaign which will commence on the 18th of October 2021 in the United Arab Emirates.

The song will be sung by a stellar line-up of artistes and Dialog brand ambassadors including, Bathiya and Santhush, Umaria, Yohani, Sanka Dineth, Sajitha, Sanuka, Madhuvy and guest performer, Roy Jackson. With lyrics written by Triad, the Sri Lanka Cricket T20 World Cup song is an initiative powered by Dialog Axiata connecting the wishes of every Sri Lankan.

Dr. Jayantha Dharmadasa, Vice President of Sri Lanka Cricket said, “I would like to thank Dialog Axiata for materializing the T20 World Cup song into existence. This tribute will be an immense morale boost for players and fans alike. The team over the past few months have been playing tourneys and trial games which have been instrumental in selecting the best combination for the T20 World Cup in UAE.”

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Sri Lanka will qualify, but can they reach semis?  

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by Rex Clementine

The cricket fans of Sri Lanka are truly amazing. They know pretty well that the chances of the team reaching the semi-finals in UAE is as low as that of Maithripala Sirisena winning a future Presidential election, but they keep believing that their team will deliver. It is only fair that the players come up with a decent show, unlike Maithripala.

If the IPL is any indication, there aren’t going to be too many high scoring games over the next four weeks and spin is going to play a huge part. That will certainly be a good indication for Sri Lanka’s bowlers.

Their batsmen, however, it remains to be seen what lessons they have learnt on sweeping. Grant Flower seemed to be having little tricks up his sleeve on the advantage of the sweep, both the conventional, paddle and reverse. Hopefully, now that Sri Lanka have a fine sweeper in their coaching staff in Mahela Jayawardene, the issue has been discussed at length.

Lack of smart options against spin has been one reason for Sri Lanka’s decline in the shorter formats of the game. Ours was a team where the sweep was the batsmen’s bread and butter and it’s quite perplexing how the current lot have forgotten to sweep and the coaching staff have failed to address the issue.

Avishka Fernando has been tremendous to watch. He has always been an exciting player and such a shame that he failed a fitness test in January and was banished from the team hotel. He was so close to making his Test debut against England and failing the fitness test was a bitter pill to swallow. But glad that the selectors and the coaching staff had the conviction to do it. They have spared the rod and spoilt too many young children. Avishka has bounced back; leaner, fitter, stronger and hungrier. IPL teams will be watching and the gut feeling is we are talking of a future billionaire in this space.

There is some school of thought that Avishka should bat at number four. He has come up with some consistent performances in that position this week. It’s true that he is Aravinda’s heir apparent, but Sri Lanka has to make the most of the Power Plays and Avishka should open batting with Kusal Perera to make most of the field restrictions. You sense that you have enough fire power in Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga and Chamika Karunaratne to take care of the death overs.

Oppositions will focus a lot on Hasaranga’s leg spin as he has had quite a bit of success in the lasts 12 months and ended up earning a contract in the IPL. World Cup is a superb occasion for him to stamp his authority as one of world’s leading wrist spinners.

Maheesh Theekshana, the new kid, has a bit of surprise element in him and could trouble teams that have not seen him much as he proved during his debut against Proteas last month. It will be interesting to see how teams that do not play spin that well handle him.

The last minute decision to include Akila Dananjaya while axing Praveena Jayawickrama hasn’t gone down too well with some supporters. But it’s a smart move. There’s no denying of the fact that Akila has looked a pale shadow of his former self since remodeling his action and in recent months has looked awful. But then, Sri Lanka have to qualify. The team is thin on experience after our selectors chased away half a dozen seniors and Akila has a surprise element about him and that could come in handy; particularly in the qualifying round.

The spin trio is not Sri Lanka’s only strength. Their main weapon is pace with Dushmantha Chameera picking up wickets with the new ball consistently and he will be their key weapon. Such a shame that the team will miss the services of Nuwan Pradeep, a clever bowler in death overs.

All hope is not lost for Sri Lanka though. One good thing is that they are not playing any Asian teams. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all in Group ‘B’. Sri Lanka will have Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and one more qualifier and if their spin fires, they could spring a few surprises. Can they go onto book a semi-final berth?

In T-20 cricket anything can happen. So don’t just rule out the Sri Lankan team. The same can be said of our voters. Don’t rule out Maithripala.

A land like no other!

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