Missing medals a worry for Sri Lanka as more challenges appear | Sunday Observer

Missing medals a worry for Sri Lanka as more challenges appear

10 September, 2023
The relay exponents: From left Pasindu Kodikara, Aruna Dharshana, Kalinga Kumarage, Pabasara Niku, Dinuka Deshan and Raijtha Rajakaruna

Sri Lanka’s athletics team is preparing for the 19th Asian Games with hopes of ending an 18-year medal drought since their impressive showing in the 2006 edition. During that memorable year, Sri Lankan athletes secured medals, including Susanthika Jayasinghe’s silver in the Women’s 200m, bronze in the Women’s 100m and a bronze medal from the Men’s 4x400m relay team.

Since then, Sri Lanka has mostly fallen short, with a few fourth-place finishes in the subsequent 18 years. However, optimism surrounds this year’s 15-member Sri Lankan athletic squad, as they aim to clinch four to five medals.

“We have high hopes for Yupun Abeykoon in the 100m and the men’s 4x400 relay team. Tharushi Karunaratne is expected to shine in the 800m and experienced middle-distance runner Gayanthika Abeyratne is also a strong contender.

“All our team members have the potential to win medals, depending on their performance on the day,” said Sri Lanka Athletics Secretary Saman Kumara.

Kumara acknowledged the trend of Middle Eastern countries hiring African runners to bolster their teams and posing challenges for Sri Lanka at recent Asian Games.

The Sri Lankan Men’s 4x400m relay team narrowly missed medals in 2014 and 2018, partly due to the strong presence of Sudanese athletes in competing countries.

Sri Lanka hopes to change this trend. “We sent a group of track event athletes for a one-week training program in Nanjin, with all facilities provided by China, which has been beneficial,” Kumara added.

Tharushi Karunaratne, due to her Advanced Level exams, missed the initial tour party for the Games. The rest of the team is set to depart on September 25, ahead of the Games starting on September 29.

Sri Lanka’s historical record at the Asian Games shows that out of the 11 gold medals won in the last 18 editions, 10 were in athletics, with the remaining gold coming from cricket in 2014. Cricket’s participation in the Asian Games has been sporadic.

Yupun Abeykoon, Tharushi Karunaratne and members of the Men’s 4x400m relay team will be making their Asian Games debut with the exception of Gayanthika Abeyratne.

Abeykoon, who is expected to contend for gold in the 100m, has overcome an injury that forced him to skip recent competitions. His recovery and performance are key factors in Sri Lanka’s medal aspirations.

Despite the intense competition at the World Aquatic Championships in Hungary, where Sri Lanka’s men’s 4x400m relay team finished last among 16 teams, the team remains confident ahead of the Asian Games.

Sri Lanka plans to make strategic changes within the quartet to improve their chances of securing gold and anticipates a tough battle mainly against Japan and India. “In such competitions, athletes’ conditions on the particular day can have a significant impact. Even a slight illness can affect the entire team’s performance. We are making strategic changes to secure the gold medal,” said Kumara.