Army athlete comes close to Olympic qualifying standards


Geethani Rajasekara receives a bottle of water at a water point. She produced a record breaking performance when she finished second behind Kenyan runner Winfridah Kwamboka. (Pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)

by Reemus Fernando

Experts stressed the need to look after latest Sri Lanka women’s marathon record holder Geethani Rajasekara in a quest to qualify country’s first women’s marathon participant for Olympics after the Sri Lanka Army athlete produced a stunning performance close to Olympic ‘B’ grade qualifying standard at the Colombo Marathon yesterday.

Many times national cross country champion in the women’s category, Rajasekara broke eight year-old Sri Lanka marathon record with a feat of two hours and 47 minutes (2:47.55 secs) at the IAAF certified course stretching from Colombo to Negombo on Sunday. She finished second in the women’s category behind Kenya’s Winfridah Kwamboka (2:46.53secs).

Rajasekara, who is also the leading contender in the 5,000 metres (she did not take part in this year’s Nationals) has hinted at an early retirement but experts including her coach Sajith Jayalal believe that she is at the ideal age to accomplish the ‘dream of qualifying’ country’s first women’s marathon participant for Olympics.

"It was a stunning performance. She has really put on a world class performance. We must thank her coach for allowing her to run the marathon which is her first. She has real potential to finish among the top 15 at a reputed world class marathon," said reputed long distance coach Jayantha Siyamudali in a telephone interview with The Island.

"She has the potential to run below two hours and 40 minutes. We have to look after her to do that. I certainly knew that she could achieve this timing based on her performance in the 5,000 metres," said her coach Jayalal, who is also the Deputy Director of Sports of the Department of Sports Development.

She had been under a Sports Ministry funded pool for a few months, but experts believe that a steady programme that is aimed at long term goals could only benefit the likes of Rajasekara.

"She certainly has the ability. I don’t think that haphazard programmes could help her. Probably the best way forward is for her employer to provide her the necessary environment to continue till Olympics. Here I am referring to Sri Lanka Army’s top hierarchy. The help should come from the highest level," said an expert who wished to remain anonymous.

A product of A. Ratnayake Central, Walala, Rajasekara has been country’s leading 5,000 metres and Cross Country runner for a long time. She also came close to beating Sujeewa Nilmini Jayasena’s long standing 5,000 metres national record last year.

Although the likes of Rajasekara have the potential to compete at Olympics, it is argued whether they could ever make it to that stage with the Sports Ministry’s so called high profile selection panel opting only to select the performances within world’s best six places for events like the Olympics.

Meanwhile, with the Defense Services athletics championship coming round the corner, many leading long distance runners employed by tri forces skipped yesterday’s marathon, which is country’s only international marathon certified by the IAAF. According to sources many leading contenders had been asked to skip the race to preserve their best for the forthcoming event.

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