Athletics stalwart see bleak future
May 7, 2014

Former star athlete, famous coach and respected administrator Sunil Gunawardena charged that country’s premier Olympic sport athletics has suffered immensely over the years due to prominence grabbed by two other popular sports cricket and rugby.

Sri Lanka with a relatively small population had been a force to reckon with for many years with some dazzling performances in the track but the bureaucratic bungling at the administrative headquarters has left once vibrant sport struggling for a lifeline.

“True, we were 1996 World Cricket Champions and World T20 Champions this year, but if you look at it, the game is played by few countries, less than 20 to be more specific. In athletics we have beaten the best in the world and some of the records, Sri Lanka’s athletes set at the Asian level some years ago are yet to be broken,” Gunawardena said referring the women’s Asian Games sprint records held by Susanthika Jayasinghe and Damayanthi Darsha.

Jayasinghe set an Asian Games record clocking 11.15 secs in women’s 100m dash at the 2002 Busan Asian Games while Darsha holds both 200m and 400m records after clocking 22.48 secs and 51.14 secs at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998.

“China, with 1.33 billion people and India with 1.2 billion have failed to produce runners to match the brilliance of Darsha and Jayasinghe; such is our standing in athletics. But today it’s on a backward march,” said Gunawardena, a veteran coach who has produced a number of world acclaimed sprinters.

Gunawardena, a member of the gold medal winning 4x400 relay-quartet at the 1974 Teheran Asian Games added that athletes survive on meagre facilities today.

“During our days, we had better access to grounds than now. We had access to Police Park, at P Sara Oval, University grounds and Sugathadasa Stadium freely for practices and for competition, but today only Sugathadasa Stadium is accessible and that too for a fee while rugby and cricket occupy most other grounds,” he explained.

“Even Sugathadasa Stadium is not in a proper conditions to host track events. The situation is no different in other parts of the country. Access is either restricted to cricket and athletics or those places are not in proper conditions for running. This is not a conducive environment for budding athletes to come up the ranks. There’s no point in pumping up money if there are no proper infra-structure facilities,” Gunawardena said. Gunwardena also said foreign training has done more harm than good for local athletes.

“We have been sending athletes aboard on specialized training but I believe such training has not produced the expected results for us. Look at high jumper Manjula Kumara, middle-distance runner Chaminda Wijekoon, sprinters Shehan Ambepitiya and Chandrika Subashini. All of them are struggling” he pointed out.

He also charged that the present administrators did not possess any sensible program to lift the dropping standard of the game.

“There’s no plan. Our performances at the international stage during the 90’s were not because we have had foreign training but because we had a proper development program. Palitha Fernando has severed as athletics president for more years than any other president in the history but what we achieved during his long tenure has been very little,” he added.

“We have just five months left for the Asian Games in Inchoen, South Korea. Have they selected our final team of athletes? In 1996 I said that we would get medals in 1998 Asian Games and In 1998 we said we will get an Olympic medal. We could foresee that because we had a plan and we worked towards that plan. Sports Ministry could pump as much money as it wishes but if the administrators do not have a plan, we will not flourish,’ he concluded.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka

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