A marvellous lift that raises our hopes

A lad from a far flung village brought fame to Sri Lanka on Friday, snatching as he did the country’s first ever weightlifting gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Chinthana is his name—Chinthana Vidanage, to be exact. He became Sri Lanka’s fourth Commonwealth gold medalist. Interestingly, his victory coincided with the tenth anniversary of Arjuna and his boys winning the cricket World Cup in a dramatic encounter with the Aussies at Lahore.

That unassuming youth from Polonnaruwa was nobody’s favourite, until his golden lift. Today we have many trying to bask in reflected glory. A winner usually finds himself or herself surrounded by friends he or she has never seen before.

Chinthana joins the club of outstation boys and girls who have done Sri Lanka proud against tremendous odds. Susanthika sprinted to fame and bagged an Olympic bronze, having cleared many a hurdle on her way. Sanath blasted his way through from the southern littoral with a bat in hand and a few clothes in a bag. Some kalu suddas wondered whether he could play cricket without speaking fluent English. But powered by rathu haal, kos and bala maalu of the South, he silenced his critics by making a red marble of leather over the pavilion, match after match until the world recognized him as a batting wonder and dubbed him Master Blaster. He sent the high and mighty in the cricketing empire reeling and rolling on the field and socked it between the eyes of his critics that what was needed in cricket was not the ability to wag the tongue. Sugath, Dharsha and many others who have vied with the best in the world and secured many medals are also from the rural backwaters with humble origins.

These talented young men and women wouldn’t have made it even to Colombo let alone beyond Sri Lankan shores but for their burning desire reinforced by an iron will. Instead of resenting opportunities denied to them, they chased after them and finally seized them. Anger and tears, they turned into energy, which fuelled their fiery will and propelled them to success. Their rise to fame is truly inspiring. Lives of these heroes and heroines, beaten into shape on the anvil of suffering and tempered with tears and sweat are worthy of emulation and praise. They have shown the way for others to clear the obstacles on their way stemming from a glaring urban bias in governance and resource allocation in this country, which has placed millions of children and youth at a distinct disadvantage and driven most of them to political radicalism because of discontent and unrest.

Incidentally yet interestingly, by a sheer coincidence, yesterday we carried on the front page a news item below the picture of Chinthana’s winning lift: ‘A remote school beats ‘em all." A school in Embilipitiya—Panawala College—has won the gold medal as the most productive school.

Chinthana, Sanath, Susanthika and others have all proved that there lies a vast reservoir of talent outside the Colombo and Kandy city limits, which needs to be tapped fully. There must be many more like them in far away places without an opportunity to blossom out. At a time when promising athletes and players are hard to come by, the sports authorities ought to broaden their search for talent by reaching out to the rural sector in a bigger way. That is the way forward for Sri Lanka’s sports.

Chinthana has a long way to go and deserves assistance. His economic burden needs to be eased first of all. However, it shouldn’t be done in such a way that he will be tempted to rest on his laurels like Susanthika. She, it should be recalled, didn’t go beyond her bronze. Let not the same mistakes be repeated.

Congratulations Chinthana on your marvellous lift and thank you for raising our hopes! And be on your mettle!


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