In retrospect of a welcome achievement


Sri Lanka’s Asian Junior Championship and South Asian Junior Championship gold medal winning relay team were able to be among the best eight teams of the world at the IAAF Under-20 World Championship in Finland. In this file picture they pose after winning the South Asian Junior Championship gold at the Sugathadasa Stadium.

by Reemus Fernando

The eighth place finish by Sri Lanka men’s team in the 4x400 metres final at the IAAF World Under-20 Championship in Finland on Sunday was a sort of anticlimax but the fact that the team was among the best eight teams in the world is something that the athletes can take inspiration from. It was also testimony that 400 metres continues to be country’s flagship discipline in the athletics arena.

Sri Lanka had never won a medal at these championships and now will have to wait to create history after Aruna Dharshana, one of the brightest prospects to emerge in recent times and the country’s 4x400 metres team had to be content with first-round and semi-final achievements.

Dharshana was the local analysts’ favourite to win country’s first medal at an IAAF World Under-20 Championship as his Asian Junior Championship record feat of 45.79 seconds placed him among world’s top contenders for medals in the 400 metres.

The athlete from Weera Keppetipola MV, Akuramboda commenced with a 46.81 seconds performance to win his heat. But in the semi-finals he could secure only the fifth position for a time of 46.75 seconds.

The men’s 4x400 metres team anchored by Dharshana became the first Sri Lankan team to feature in an Under-20 World Championship final after Shehan Ambepitiya competed in the 100 metres final in the 2008 edition.

They qualified for the final by virtue of their third place finish behind pre championship favourites USA and France.

In retrospect one would ask as to what would have happened if Dharshana clocked his personal best at these championships as the bronze medal in the 400 metres was won by Jamaica’s Chantz Sawyers in a time of 45.89 seconds. Dharshana carried a personal best of 45.79 seconds to the biennial championship.

A veteran athletics coach opines that it would be hard for any one to continue peak form for months.

"It would be hard for any one to maintain peak form for months. The Junior team had been performing at top level for more than two months now," he said.

Even the pre-event favourite for the 400 metres title Christopher Taylor of Jamaica could return only a time of 45.38 seconds to be placed second in the final. He had a seasonal best of 44.88 seconds.

The 11 Sri Lankan athletes picked for this championship had been performing at regional championships since May. They first excelled at the South Asian Junior Athletics Championships at the Sugathadasa Stadium in May and then at the Asian Junior Championships in Japan.

One should not forget that these athletes had to miss training with just days to go for the IAAF event after the renovated facility at the Sugathdasa Stadium was controversially rented for a religious event.

What the Junior team achieved for Sri Lanka at the South Asian Junior Athletics Championships, Asian Junior Championships and the Asian Youth Olympics trials recently were due to the dedication and hard work of the athletes and their coaches. Analysing the performances of country’s junior crop of athletes one realises that there is huge competition in the 400 metres. The effort put in by numerous coaches to develop their athletes to win titles at local junior competitions has resulted in the country fielding the fastest relay team in 400 metres at the World stage.

Arguably the junior athletes had been doing relatively better than their senior counterparts at regional championships during recent times. The high competition at schools level and the competition among coaches have powered junior athletes to reach greater heights. From Shehan Ambepitiya to Himasha Eshan there had been a number of athletes who had topped lists of the country’s top athletes in various disciplines while they were still in school. Now Dharshana has emerged as an Asian Games prospect while still in school and had become country’s all time fourth fastest sprinter in the 400 metres.

While the spotlight mostly fell on the achievements of Dharshana and the relay team there were several others including sprinter Amasha de Silva, Dilshi Kumarsinghe and Youth Olympic prospect Paarami Wasanthi who had been doing well at regional level.

It is incumbent upon Sports authorities to look after these budding athletes and layout a plan not only to develop them as sportsmen but also to excel in education as they have proven beyond doubt that they have the potential to win at senior international level.

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