We need different mindset
Did anybody ask Lankan shooter Samarakoon to win,asks SA Games gold medalist Lucky RajasingheAugust 4, 2012, 6:50 pm
by Reemus Fernando
reporting from London
When some fifty shooters including Sri Lanka’s Mangala Samarakoon laid down to commence the men’s 50 metre rifle prone event in front of a packed audience in Royal Artillery Barracks in London, there were at least two Sri Lankan fans in the stands. The former South Asian Games gold medallist Lucky Rajasinghe and his wife had travelled all the way from California to London just to witness Samarakoon shooting at 2012 Olympics. The brother of late Olympian Daya Rajasinghe, Lucky witnessed with his wife how Samarakoon made an exit after scoring 585 points, which was just 10 points short of making to the medal round. Rajasinghe was at the best position to explain how Mangala perform and to talk about the sport in general as he was himself a shooter and one time a mentor to many a national shooters.
"He was doing very well. I was following him. The point is he was excited to be here. I asked him why he came here. He said he wanted to come to Olympics? He has achieved his goal. Has anybody asked him to go and win a medal? Did anybody expect him to win? Did you or the shooter think that he could win? We have to change our mindset if we want our athletes to win," said Rajasinghe in an interview with ‘The Sunday Island’ on the sidelines of the second phase (the medal round) of the men’s 50 metres rifle prone event.
His views were of complete contrast to the views of the Sri Lankan administrators. The NOC President, Hemasiri Fernando, in reply to a query by this newspaper before the Olympics, said that it "was only a dream to win a medal in shooting at London Olympics." He was not alone. By the time the shooter received a quota place to represent the country, the top administrators of the Interim Committee of the Shooting Federation in Sri Lanka had already decided that an official from the Interim Committee should attend Olympics instead of Samarakoon’s coach Brigadier Kenneth Edema. The Interim Committee officials were saying that he was ‘just a wild card entrant.’
"If we want our athletes to just come here and go, they will do just that. For years and years, we came for Olympics and went off. When we went to Commonwealth Games, nobody believed that we could win. Many thought that we were just going there. I said; ‘no we are going to win and that’s why we are going there.’ That was the 1994 Victoria Games. I was the national coach. Everyone was thinking negatively. I told them that we are not going just to make numbers. We have travelled enough and we need to think, are we going if we are not going to win.’ There were four shooters including me. I said we have to win. And from the time we landed, we did the mental training continuously. The results were amazing. It (the positive approach) made such a difference. We won one gold and two silvers. In shooting, it had been something unprecedented. It was just the changing of mindset. We surprised ourselves," opined former Sri Lanka Army Lieutenant Colonal who is now domiciled in California, USA.
"Thinking positively is what we are not doing. These poor athletes put so much of effort to achieve the Olympic qualification. It is easy for us to say different things sitting from somewhere. But there are things that can be done to improve the shooter (Mangala) from the quality of equipment, his personality and little things that he has to do."
He said that target should be to achieve the top ten places in the world because that itself would be a victory. Pointing out the examples of US swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, who lost some events despite being top swimmers, he said that at the highest level, anything could happen.
"If you can enter the first ten, you have actually achieved that dream. We should be positive. Everybody should say that you can do it. That is the first step."
It was during the time of his tenure in the Sri Lanka Army that Daya Rajasinghe, Lucky’s brother, took the initiative to properly train Sri Lankan shooters. That drive resulted in some of Sri Lanka’s unheard of athletes winning glory at South Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Embracing the dream -
"Daya actually had a dream. Everybody embraced that dream. So everybody said ‘yes, we can do it.’ I still remember in 1991, when we first held the South Asian Games, what President (Ranasinghe) Premadasa asked us. He asked me and Deepika (Chanmugam) ‘which one of you are going to win me the first Gold medal.’ I said I will give you the first Gold medal. He asked me again ‘are you sure’. I said yes sir I will give you the gold medal. Then Deepika said, ‘no, I will do it first.’ So he said whoever who is going to win, the first medal will get a colour TV set. Those days, that was a big present. He was the President of the country. It was not a case of asking ‘can you win a medal or not.’ We were discussing who was going to win the first medal.
Deepika won the first gold before me. I won some five minutes later. But when I went home, there was a letter from the President waiting for me at home. It said, ‘congratulations! I thank you on behalf of the country.’ I was also given a TV. He said he was giving the TV not because we won the gold. He said he gave that because of our positive reply. We told him that we would win the gold. He said that was what he wanted. The President of the country taking it so personally made a huge difference."
Individuals like Daya and Lucky took a personal interest in taking shooting forward. With the sport of shooting lagging behind, it is argued whether it is the laxity of authorities that has led to the current state of affairs. However Lucky begs to differ.
"There are still people who want to take this sport forward. But we just passed a phase where war was taking precedence over everything. We have finished the war. Priorities changed with the war taking place because it was the armed forces who were looking after the shooters. There was a time when the armed forces did not have enough money to allocate for shooting. There was no lack of effort. Even without ammunition the shooters trained. That means the drive was there."
Lucky believes that the Sri Lankan shooter Samarakoon has the ability to reach the highest level.
"When I was watching the shooter, I felt that he had the ability to do better. I was watching a Sri Lankan shooter after a long time. This guy would have easily got 595 points (which would have qualified him for the medal round). He has the capability, the level of confidence… they were really good. He has a very good potential in reaching the highest level."
"We should prepare well. In US where I am now, they prepare for minimum for two years targeting Olympics. They consistently prepare physically and mentally to come and shoot at Olympics. But they did not qualify for the medal round today. There is an Indian in the last 12 round. In fact when we started in 1991, that was the time we dominated in South Asia. In 1994, we won Commonwealth Games Golds. Since then we have taken a backseat because of internal politics and little differences between individuals."
He also said that the presence of a Sri Lankan shooter at Beijing and in London should be looked at positively to take the sport forward. "We have the capability. Look at the last Olympics. We had one shooter (E. M. Senanayake). This time we have one. We should be happy that we have at least one shooter. We have to look at it positively and take from there on."
"The moment I came to know that we have a shooter, I said I am coming to Olympics to see him perform. I got my ticket from Spain. It was very difficult to get tickets."
The sport of shooting offers very little action and the spectators mostly look at the electronic scoreboards as shooters lay motionless beneath them with just a change of positions. Despite little action, Lucky said that he enjoys it very much because he understands how difficult a sport it is for anyone to master.
"It is such a difficult sport. It is not easy. People go to see golf. This is the same. It is more of a mental game than physical. Although there is no action, I know what is going inside their minds," said the veteran.
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