The Fastest Man in South Asia | Sunday Observer
Yupun Abeykoon,

The Fastest Man in South Asia

30 May, 2021

Yupun Abeykoon continued to break records last week at the Anhault 2021 athletic meet in Dessau, Germany, taking first place for Sri Lanka in the men’s 100 metre finals. Having already set the best times for not only Sri Lanka but also for South Asia last year in September, Yupun repeated his achievement twice this month, clocking a personal best time of 10:15 on the 13 at the Meeting di Savona in Italy and again with his new best of 10:09 at Anhault on the 21. While his latest record is yet to be ratified due to complications regarding the wind, Yupun has consistently proven himself to be one of the fastest men in the global stage of athletics.

In a brief interview with the Italian based athlete, Yupun spoke to us about his journey to compete at the top level, his relationship and history with the sport, as well as his opinion on the state of athletics in Sri Lanka.

When asked about how he felt becoming the fastest runner not only in Sri Lanka but all of South Asia, Yupun said that the journey had been extremely tough but enjoyable. Having competed in athletic meets since his school days, his talent earned Yupun the opportunity to join the Sri Lankan National Army Team. It was with this team that he first burst onto the world stage, earning the bronze medal as the anchor in the men’s 4x100m relay at the 2015 Military World Games in Korea. That same year, Yupun’s family moved to Italy where he has trained and competed from, while representing Sri Lanka for the past six years.

Having trained under Sri Lankan coaches and now training under Italian coaches, Yupun had extensive experience with both and noted the differences. He said that the local coaches are not bad and that there are many good Sri Lankan runners but Sri Lanka is lagging behind when it comes to athletics. In comparison, Italian coaches have access to much better facilities and easily accessible resources. Italian coaches also have easier communication between each other, allowing them to develop stronger and more efficient training methods. As Sri Lankan coaches are at a disadvantage with little support, Yupun doesn’t feel that it is fair to compare them to Italian coaches.

Great disparity

Similarly, Yupun spoke of the great disparity between Sri Lankan and Italian competitions. In comparison to sports like Cricket which receive national attention and support, athletics is more of a niche sport so it doesn’t have the support that it needs to thrive on an international level. In Italy, athletics are also far from popular with football being the household sport for the people.. However, athletics still receives great support from its government and authorities, allowing for a better level of competition and publicity. Yupun feels athletics in Sri Lanka needs that kind of support to compete on the same level.

Speaking about his own personal history with athletics, Yupun talked about how he’d loved the sport since he was nine years old, citing the likes of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and Mike Rodger as inspirations. They are globally ranked athletes, some of whom he has now got to compete against. And while his friends went on to try out other things, Yupun stuck with athletics. It had been his dream to run at the top level in Sri Lanka, but said that he was disappointed once he had reached that level. There was plenty of great talent in Sri Lanka, but very few chances or sponsors so there wasn’t much of a future in athletics for the talented athletes.

Despite his great achievements and being the fastest in South Asia for the men’s 100m, Yupun feels that they don’t seem as impressive in Italy, where he has had to consistently try hard to succeed as he has. Even with Italian coaches and facilities, he still struggled despite being based in Italy. Yet, Yupun still represented Sri Lanka. This meant that while athletes in Italy got great sponsors and compensation, Yupun himself didn’t get any of that even though he consistently outperformed most of them.

Though Yupun’s experience in Italy in the past six years has been generally positive, Italy’s lacklustre Covid -19 response held back his training during 2020. However, even with the restrictions that followed once the worst of it had died down, Yupun managed to get some training indoors as well as eventually taking part in Covid- 19 bubbles that allowed him to train at the proper facilities while remaining safe. However, now Yupun is continuing his training in Germany where he has been taking part in the Anhault meet.

Tokyo Olympics goal

Regarding his future in athletics, Yupun considers qualifying to take part in the Tokyo Olympics this year to be his ultimate goal right now. He expressed how it was the dream of any athlete to compete in the Olympics. With his newest record of 10.09s, should it be ratified, would put him closest he’s ever come to the Olympics requirement of 10.05s.

Beyond that, Yupun said that he has no intention of returning to compete in Sri Lanka, though he may need to return in order to discuss with the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka about representing Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games next year.

When we asked him if had any advice for anyone looking to get into athletics, Yupun had much wisdom to share. First, he emphasised the need for focus as he believed giving any less than your 100 per cent to athletics would be useless as unlike with a team sport, your success in athletics depends solely on you.

Next, he advised people to start young and get good at the school level as growing up with the sport is a great advantage for an athlete. Yupun also spoke on the importance of finding the right balance between sports and study, as with a strong background in both you can get a chance to earn a scholarship.

Then, he spoke about the importance of planning big. By following through on a good plan and aiming high, you can open many doors into the bigger world of athletics. Yupun stressed the importance of getting to the world level as that is vital to improving further as an athlete.

Recalling his own experiences, Yupun said how he and several of his Sri Lankan colleagues in athletics grew exponentially once they competed at the international level.

Finally, Yupun wished to express his gratitude towards everyone who helped him to get where he is now.