A look back at Sri Lanka’s achievements

Asian Athletics Championships


File Pic: Sugath Thilakaratne, Damayanthi Dharsha and Sriyani Kulawansa kept Sri Lanka’s flag flying high.

by Reemus Fernando

Sri Lanka’s athletes have excelled more at the Asian Athletics Championships than at any other regional event. The biennial Championship has also provided the opportunity for some of its future prospects to experience their first taste of victory at international level. Sri Lanka is fielding a strong team for the forthcoming 23rd Asian Athletics Championships which will be held from April 21 to 24 in Doha, Qatar. Here are the highlights of Sri Lanka’s performances during the past.

First medal

Sri Lanka made their presence felt at these championships for the first time in 1975 when the country’s men’s 4x400 metres relay team won a bronze. A. Premachandra, W. Wimaladasa, Bandula Jayasinghe and Dervin Perera clocked 3:13.4 seconds to finish behind India and Japan.

First individual medal

Sri Lanka won its first individual medal when Vijita P. Amarasekara threw the javelin to a distance of 50.90 metres at the Kuala Lampur Championships in 1991. That solitary medal placed Sri Lanka in the 15th position alongside Brunei and Indonesia in the mdals table.

1993 was a special year as the country produced four medals with Damayanthi Dharsha who would dazzle the Asian track later and two other prominent female athletes announced their arrival. Dharsha clocked 23.29 seconds to win the silver in the 200 metres. While Sriyani Dhammika Menike was placed third in the 800 metres (2:04.90 secs), Sriyani Kulawansa won silver in the 100 metres hurdles (13.38 secs). Men’s 4x400 meres team won the third place (3:10.49 secs)

First golds

Sri Lanka won gold medals at the 1995 championship in Jakarta, Indonesia when Susanthika Jayasinghe and Sriyani Kulawansa clinched 200 metres (in a time of 23.00 seconds) and 100 metres hurdles (13.29 secs) respectively. Susanthika also won a silver in the 100 metres (11.37 sec). Sugath Thilakaratne who would later go on to establish an Asian Games record clocked 46.21 to win bronze in the 400 metres. Thilakaratne also anchored the 4x400 metres for SL to win bronze in a time of 3:07.87 seconds. Two golds, one silver and two bronzes marked the highest ever medal haul by Sri Lanka at these Championships. Sri Lanka climbed up to the sixth position above Saudi Arabia (KSA) and India

Golden era

Sugath Thilakaratne and Damayanthi Dharsha won the men’s and women’s 400 metres golds in 1998. Both established championship records, Dharsha 51.23 seconds and Thilakaratne 44.61 seconds. Sriyani Kulawansa ran her fastest 100 metres hurdles at these championships (13.16 secs) but had to settle for bronze. Once again Thilakaratne anchored SL to bronze in the 4x400 metres. Sri Lanka were ranked fifth above India. (China 26 golds, Japan 6 golds, Qatar 3 golds and Kazakhstan 2 golds)

2000 was a landmark year in athletics. The Jakartha Asian Championship too witnessed three important athletics performances that would be talked about for years to come. Damayanthi Dharsha won golds in 200 and 400 metres. She created a new 200 metres championship record of 22.84 seconds and established a new National record in the 400 metres with a 51.05 seconds feat. That performance remains to date the National record. Harijan Ratnayake’s 49.44 seconds to win the silver in the 400 metres hurdles too still remains the national record. So is the 4x400 metres gold winning feat of 3:02.71 seconds established by Manura Lanka Perera, V. Ratnakumara, Ranga Wimalawansa and Rohan Pradeep Kumara.

Country’s other gold in the championship was won in women’s 4x100 metres relay anchored by Dharsha. Sri Lanka were ranked sixth in the medals table.

Colombo hosts

Sri Lanka hosted the event in 2002 for the first time at the Sugathadasa Stadium. Sprint queen Susanthika dazzled in front of the home crowd winning golds in 100 metres (11.29 secs) and 200 metres (22.84 ) with championship records. Sriyani Kulawansa won silver (13.43 secs). Menaka Wickremasinghe, Lalana Gunawardena, Swarnamali Edirisinghe and Damayanthi Dharsha joined to win 4x400 metres bronze. Sugath Thilakaratne won bronze (45.73) in the 400 metres and anchored the 4x400 metres to gold (3:03.35 secs). Others in the team were Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Ranga Wimalawansa and Prasanna Amarasekara.

Gold winning 4x400 metres relay

Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Ranga Wimalawansa, Prasanna Amarasekara and Sugath Thilakaratne won the 4x400 metres gold (3:03.05 secs) at the Championship in Manila in 2003. Sujeewa Nilmini Jayasena achieved a notable milestone winning silver in the 10,000 metres (34:46.99 secs) becoming the first female athlete to excel in a long distance event at international event. In another first in field events, Anne Maheshi de Silva won bronze in the javelin (50.18m)

Manjula’s high jump feat in 2005

Manjula Kumara won gold in the high jump with a feat of 2.27 metres at the 2005 Incheon championships. That mark still remains the national record more than a decade after it was established. Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Rohitha Pushpakumara, Manura Lanka Perera and Prasanna Amarasekara won silver in the 4x400 metres (3:04.12 secs). Dharsha won gold in the 200 metres (23.21 secs). Anne Maheshi de Silva won bronze again (54.86m). Prasanna Sampath Amarasekera (46.48 secs) and Rohan Pradeep Kumara (46.52 secs) won silver and bronze in the 400 metres.

Amarasekara’s moment

Prasanna Sampath Amarasekara had his moment at the Championship in Amman, Jordan in 2007. He clocked 46.71 seconds to win 400 metres. Rohitha Pusupakumara, Shivant Weerasuriya, Ashok Jayasundara and Amarasekara joined to win silver in the 4x400 metres (3:07.29 secs).

Susanthika Jayasinghe won golds in the 100 metres (11.19 secs) and 200 metres. Sujani Buddhika showed lot of promise as she finished behind Jayasinghe to win silver in the 200 metres. Many expected Buddhika to follow in on the footsteps of Jayasinghe. But she failed to excel later. Menaka Wickramasinghe was placed third in the 400 metres (54.11 secs). A future Olympian Nadeeka Lakmali made her mark at this championship in Amman as she clinched a bronze with a throw of 52.59 metres in the javelin.

In 2009 at the Guangzhou (China) Championships, high jumper Manjula Kumara and Chaminda Wijekoon were the only successful athletes. Kumara cleared 2.23 metres to win gold in the high jump, while Wijekoon clocked 3:47.01 seconds to win silver in the 1500 metres.

Chandrika’s silver

At the championship in Kobe in 2011, Wijekoon won bronze in the 1500 metres with a feat of 3:44.01 seconds. A silver for Chandrika Subashini in the 400 metres (53.35 secs) and a bronze for the US based hurdler Christine Merril (57.30 secs) were the other highlights for Sri Lanka as the country experienced a slump in the rankings (medals table). Sri Lanka were placed 15th in the medals table.

Throwers excel

Throwing coach A.J. Rodrigo’s trainees Nadeeka Lakmali (60.16m) and Sachith Maduranga (79.62 m) won silvers in the javelin. It was a remarkable achievement in field events. Both performances were new Sri Lanka records. The other medal, a bronze was won by Dulan Priyashantha, Dilan Aloka, Kasun Seneviratne and Anjana Gunaratne in the 4x400 metres (3:04.92 secs)

Enter Nimali

Sri Lanka had a disappointing outing in 2015 in Wuhan. Nimali Liyanarachchi was the only athlete to win a medal. She clocked 2:03.94 seconds to win bronze in the 800 metres.

Nimali’s gold

At the last championship held in Bhubaneswar in 2017, Tharusha Dananjaya, Kalinga Kumarage, Ajith Premakumara and Dilip Ruwan returned a time of 3:04.80 seconds to win silver in the 4x400 metres. Sri Lanka showcased a new found strength in middle distance events when Nimal iLiyanarachchi (2:05.23 secs) and Gayanthika Abeyratne (2:05.27 secs) both from Sooriyawewa won the gold and silver respectively in the 800 metres. In fact their positions were upgraded to gold and silver after the Indian runner was disqualified for obstructing the Sri Lankan duo.

Rumeshika Ratnayake showed lot of promise with a 23.43 seconds finish to win silver in the 200 metres. So was Dilhani Lekamge who won silver in the women’s javelin with an impressive 58.11 metres throw. Sadly both these athletes have failed to make the team this time around.

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