Pushpamali pays tribute to Rajasingha, Assesses Present Situ


by Reemus Fernando

By the end of the 1980s, four shooters, all men, had represented Sri Lanka at an Olympics.

In 1992, when Pushpamali Ramanayake took aim at the Barcelona Olympics, she became the first female shooter to represent the country at an Olympics. The three-time Olympian is one of very few female shooters to have represented the country at the quadrennial Games.

She paid a glowing tribute to former Olympian, Daya Rajasingha, for initiating shooting for women in an interview with ‘The Island’ recently.

"If not for Daya Rajasingha Sir, we wouldn’t have been able to represent the country at an Olympics. He did a wonderful service by commencing systematic training," said Ramanayake, of the former Olympian, whose service to Sri Lanka Army shooters is spoken highly years after his demise.

Rajasingha represented Sri Lanka at two Olympics. At the 1972 Munich Olympics, he was ranked 65th in the Mixed Small-Bore Rifle Prone, 50 metres event and at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, he was ranked 49th in the Men’s Small-Bore Rifle, Prone 50 metres.

"We were the first female shooters to come under his stewardship. He had returned from abroad after training and with a lot of experience. He had the blessings of General Wanasinghe (former Army commander) to start training marksmen in Sri Lanka. There was no systematic training for shooting until that time. Those who fired at the Olympics in the ‘60s had not received systematic training. It was under Rajasingha Sir’s guidance that a shooting school was set up at Diyatalawa," recalled Ramanayake.

Rajasingha, who was earlier known as Nadarajasingham, was the commanding officer of the Marksman School. "It started in 1989 and I was then with the Nation Auxiliary Force. But I could not be there for long, as we were demobilised when we were about to pass out. When I was there, Rajasinghe Sir looked out for good shooters.

He selected the 10 best shooters who followed the basic course. It was then that women’s participation in shooting began."

Pushpamali and Malini Wickramasinghe, another international medalist for Sri Lanka, were some of the shooters who came under the early stewardship of Rajasingham.

It did not take years for Pushpamali to win international fame, as she emerged above all medal winners for Sri Lanka during the mid ‘90s at the South Asian Games. Pushpamali represented Sri Lanka at three Olympics. Her last was in Athens, in 2004. However, after her representation, no female shooter has entered the Olympic arena.

She regrets that Sri Lanka has failed to be on par with India in shooting. "At one stage, we were better than India in shooting. Indian officials used to say that I was their best shooter. After sometime, we were on par with India. But later, they climbed the ladder, while we remained at the same spot."

Has the standards of shooting declined? And if so, what are the reasons?

Indian shooters received a lot of government support to develop the sport. Another reason is that shooters did not receive specialised training. For example, in some other sports, many sportspersons were sent abroad for specialised training. Coaches were also sent abroad for specialized training. But in shooting, that was lacking.

During our days, we went for several international competitions a year. Now the number of competitions where our shooters compete has taken a dip. We went for more international competitions, compared to the present lot. You need to send them for competitions to gain experience."

We received a great deal of support when S. B. Dissanayake was the Minister of Sports. Mali retired one year before me. And with Rajasingha Sir’s demise, the standard of shooting declined to some extent. There is a revival in shooting with the involvement of Brigadier Kenneth Edema. We have shooters now to match the standard of South Asians. Hopefully, we will continue to improve.

According to her, the support provided by the Sri Lanka Army, even during the war has helped the sport survive and if not for the Sri Lanka Army’s support, many emerging shooters would have given up the sport.

Still a spinster, Pushpamali also opined that the sport which suits people of all ages, had not been persevered by many female shooters, after marriage.

After participating at the Athens Olympics, Pushpamali spent a few years nursing a back injury. When she was about to make a comeback to the sport, after four years, a near fatal road accident kept her bedridden for nearly two months and effectively put a lid on her chances of making an immediate return. But it did not hold the Commonwealth Games gold medalist from associating with the sport she loved dearly, for long. Her latest stint with the Sri Lanka Army began in 2010, and this time, it is to oversee the progress of Sri Lanka Army shooters, including London bound shooter, Mangala Samarakoon.

She says that she is fit enough to get back to competitive shooting, but there are no immediate plans to make a comeback.

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