Sri Lanka’s new swimming sensation

Hard work and dedication is said to be taking you where you want to go in your chosen field. The best fast bowler Sri Lanka has ever produced, Chaminda Vaas, once said that there’s no substitute for hard work. Those are the same words that Mineka Karunaratne, an emerging swimming star practiced and she was rewarded with two gold medals in the South Asian Games that ended recently.

Absence of Mayumi Raheem and Andrew Abeysinghe who shared five gold medals between them in the 2006 South Asian Games created some kind of pressure on the Sri Lankan swimming team, but that burden was somewhat erased by Karunaratne, who apart from her two gold medals won a silver medal as well.

When Sunday Island Sportstar tried to contact Karunaratne, we had to face plenty of difficulties due to her busy schedule, which starts at 5:00 am each day and ends with studies back at home late in the evening.

The Sri Lankan team won 24 medals in all in 32 swimming events when the South Asian Games was held in Colombo three years ago. On that occasion there were five gold medals with Raheem accounting for three and Abeysinghe winning two. This year, however, Sri Lanka managed to win only three gold medals out of 16 events with Karunaratne accounting for two and Heshan Unamboowe winning one.

When the Sri Lankan swimming contingent took wings to Dhaka for this year’s games, there were doubts whether the young swimming team would be able to fill in the big shoes of Mayumi Raheem and crowd. Nevertheless they had an impressive run with Karunaratne excelling beyond expectations.

"If you are comparing last year’s performances, you have to also take into account the fact that several events were reduced for this year’s games. So I consider winning three gold medals by Sri Lanka’s swimmers as a decent performance," Karunaratne said in an interview.

"Many of us felt that we couldn’t put up our best show as we were tired during the competition. Mind you, we only left for the South Asian Games one day prior to the events and to straightaway to go out and compete is a big ask. So a lot of our swimmers were tired even before the events got underway and it wasn’t the ideal kind of preparation," Karunaratne said.

"Had we gone a little bit earlier, we would have been able to acclimatize to the conditions and more importantly get used to the pool conditions," she added.

"When Mayumi and Andrew won lot of medals during the last South Asian Games, you’ve got to admit that they came in well prepared. They were trained by well known foreign coaches and we expected them to do well. You’ve got to admit that these three medals we have won utilizing local expertise," she said.

Karunaratne, a breaststroke specialist believes that the stroke she has mastered requires proper technique than power. Both her gold medals came in breaststroke events (50 meters and 100 meters breaststroke) while the silver medal came in 4x100 medley relay, where she once again did the breaststroke leg.

"I like breaststroke very much because it has the rhythm ideal for me. Most swimmers probably prefer other strokes relying on power, but technique is the name of the game when it comes to me and hence I prefer sticking to breaststroke" Karunaratne said further explaining her stroke.

Karunaratne is being coached by former swimming great Julian Bolling and she could become the first female Sri Lankan swimmer to compete in an Olympics using local expertise alone.

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