|Thursday, 8 August 2002|
14th Asian Athletic Championships:
Sri Lanka all spruced up to hold Asian athletic extravaganza
BY DINESH WEERAWANSA
Sri Lanka, the world's newest athletic destination, is ready to host nearly 1,000 Asian competitors, officials and guests for a memorable extravaganza in the five days to come. Better known in the world sporting map as the island nation which produced champion cricketers, Sri Lanka athletes are now ready to emulate those feats and make their presence felt in track and field too.
Hosting the Asian championship has opened new horizons for local athletics as Colombo has already been picked as a venue for Asian Grand Prix series for five years commencing June, 2003. This will open up more incentives as some of the top international meets and Grand Prix series would be offered to Colombo. Hosting a IAAF Grand Prix in Colombo is not that far, the way the athletic world is concentrating on Sri Lanka.
The world governing body IAAF too has shown keen interest on the events in Sri Lanka. The IAAF President Lamine Diack was to make a historic tour to Sri Lanka to be the guest of honour at the closing ceremony on Monday but a sudden heart attack has forced him to cancel the much looked forward trip here. However the Senegal's world athletic boss has sent his greetings and good wishes to the Colombo championships and has promised all assistance for Sri Lanka in its endeavor to rise in the world athletic world.
Sri Lanka is ready to host its biggest ever sporting event from today as 40 countries will field teams totaling nearly 900 members at the 14th Asian Athletics Championships to be worked off at the Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo from August 8 to 12. A new Rekortan 400m running track and a 200m practice track have been laid at the venue for the Asian athletic extravaganza - Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo, country's main track & field stadium. The Government of Sri Lanka has given its fullest support to host the meet, pumping Rupees 200 million despite country's struggling economy with a huge budget deficit.
Chairman of the Organising Committee of the 14th Asian Championship, Johnston Fernando, who is also the host nation's Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports, said all arrangements have been finalised to host the meet on a grand scale. The organizing committee has been struggling hard to make the infrastructure development needed to host the championship in a short time after last year's General elections in Sri Lanka. But finally, they have been successful in meeting the challenge and Sugathadasa Stadium is now ready to host the Asian Championship, the biggest-ever sporting event to be held in the island after the seven-nation South Asian Federation (SAF) Games in 1991.
Colombo, one of South Asia's leading cities, will be the center of attraction amongst Asians as the cream of athletes in the region, including several World champions, vie for honours at the Asian Athletic Championship starts on Thursday (8). Of the 44 member countries of the Asian Amateur Athletic Association (4As), 40 countries will be seen in action. Afghanistan will not field a team as their membership has been suspended. The five-day meet will also be an ideal testing for the athletes in the region before the 14th Asian Games to be held in South Korean city of Busan, in two months time. Fresh after the recent three-leg Asian Grand Prix series in Hyderabad, Manila and Bangkok, most top Asian athletes are in good form and several new records could well be established in Colombo.
Carrying the host nation's medal hopes will be Olympic medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe. At 26 years, Jayasinghe has been the country's leading woman athlete during the past decade. She has been Sri Lanka's best bet for a gold medal and will compete in women's 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay.
Jayasinghe has been the country's most successful athlete ever, winning women's 200m silver medal at the 1997 IAAF World Championships in Athens and a bronze medal in the same event at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Last week, she narrowly missed a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, finishing fourth in one hundredth of a second behind bronze medallist Sevethada Fynes of Bahamas in women's 100m. But Jayasinghe's timing of 11.08 seconds in the final was her season's best performance and is an indication of her feats ahead at the Asian Championship. Women's 200m has been Jayasinghe's pet event and she held the No.3 position in the IAAF World rankings until end last year.
Sri Lanka has shown good form in sprints at Asian athletics, which is being dominated by China, Japan, Kazakhstan, India and Thailand. Their best performance at regional level was in 1991 when Colombo hosted the Vth South Asian Federation Games - 14 athletic gold medals. Since then, the island nation, better known in the sporting arena as the world cricket champions in 1996, has produced several track stars including Jayasinghe, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Sriyani Kulawansa, Asian Games gold medallist and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Sugath Tillakaratne, Asian Games double gold medallist and Asian record holder in women's 200m and 400m, Damayanthi Darsha and Asian championship double gold medallist Rohan Pradeep Kumara.
Unfortunately, Darsha will not be taking part in the 400m event due to a hamstring injury but will run in the 4 x 400m relay.
Sri Lanka will be fielding its largest ever contingent in the Asian Championship history, numbering 105 athletes. As the hosts, Sri Lanka will field three athletes in each event and will compete in all events of the championship calendar. Japan and China are set to pose the biggest threat in the track events while India could have a major share in field events.
How they will perform
9 am - Hammer throw women's final
9 am - 100m hurdles women's heptathlon -1
9.30 am - 100m men heats round 1
9.40 am - High jump women's heptathlon -2
10.20 am - 400m men hears round 1
10.30 am - Javelin throw men qualifying
4 pm - Shot putt women's - heptathlon - 3
4 pm - Triple jump men qualifying
4 pm - Discus throw women's final
4 pm - 400m men semi-final
4.25 pm - 400m women's semi final
4.50 pm - 100m men heats round 2
5.15 pm - 100m women's heats
5.40 p.m. - 10,000m men's final
6.25 pm - 200m women's heptathlon - 4
6.50 pm - 4 x100m relay men heats
DAY TWO - August 10
7 am - 20km walk men final
9 am - Hammer throw men final
9 am - Long jump men qualifying
9 am - 400m hurdles women's heats
9.20 am - 400m hurdles men heats
9.50 am - 100m women's semi-final
10.10 am - 100m men semi-final
10.30 am - 1,500m men heats
4 pm - 100m hurdles women's heats
4 pm - Long jump women's heptathlon - 5
4 pm - High jump women's final
4 pm - Pole vault women's final
4.20 pm - 110m hurdles men heats
4.40 pm - 100m women's final
4.55 pm - 100m men final
5.10 pm - 3,000m steeple chase men final
5.30 pm - Javelin throw women's heptathlon - 6
5.30 pm - Long jump women's final
5.30 pm - 800m men heats round 1
6 pm - 400m women's final
6.20 pm - 400m men final
6.40 pm - 10,000m women's final
7.20 p.m. - 800m women's heptathlon - 7
7.40 pm - 4 x 100m relay women's final
8 pm - 4 x 100m relay men final
DAY THREE - August 11
7 am - 20k Walk women's final
9 am - 100m men Decathlon -1
9 am - Javelin Throw women's final
9.45 am - 200m men Heats
9.45 am - Long jump men Decathlon - 2
11 am - Shot putt men Decathlon -3
4 pm - Shot putt men final
4 pm - Triple jump women's final
4 pm - Pole vault men final
4 pm - High jump men Decathlon - 4
4 pm - 100m hurdles women's final
4.20 pm - 110m hurdles men final
4.40 pm - 1,500m women's final
4.55 pm - 1,500m men final
5.15 pm - 200m women's semi final
5.35 pm - 200m men semi final
5.35 pm - Triple jump men final
5.35 pm - Javelin throw men final
5.55pm - 800m men semi final
6.10 pm - 800m women's semi final
6.30 pm - 400m men Decathlon - 5
7 pm - 4 x 400m relay men heats
DAY FOUR - August 12
9 am - 110m hurdles men Decathlon - 6
9.40 am - Discus throw men Decathlon - 7
9.40 11 am - Pole vault Men Decathlon -8
3 pm - High jump men final
3 pm - Long jump men final
3 pm - Javelin throw men Decathlon - 9
3 pm - 400m hurdles women's final
3.15 pm - 400m hurdles men final
3.35 pm - 200m women's final
3.50 pm - 200m men final
4.05 pm - 800m women's final
4.20 pm - 800m men final
4.35 pm - Shot putt women's final
4.35 pm - Discus throw men final
4.35 pm - 5,000m women's final
5.05 pm - 5,000m men final
5.25 pm - 1,500m Decathlon - 10
5.45 pm - 4 x 400m women's final
6 pm - 4 x 400m men final
Tilakaratne and Chammeri face gold rush
by Meredyth Lewis
The men's 400m at this year's Asian Athletics will draw a huge crowd as Sri Lanka's hopes for gold in the men's 400m will face a serious challenge.
Although Sugath Tilakaratne won the gold medal in the 400m sprint at the Asian championships in 1998 with a time of 44.61 secs, this year he faces a line-up of tough competitors.
Both Korea and Japan have entered strong athletes in the event, however the main threat to Sri Lankan gold hopes exists in the form of Kuwaits Fawzi Chammeri. Speaking exclusively to the 'Daily News', the President of the Kuwait Athletic Federation Hamad N Al'Sadih championed Chammeri's chances at breaking the Asian World Record for the men's 400m competition. Ranked 11th in the world, Chammeri has already set the new 400m record in Kuwait and since, he has gone from strength to strength. In recent years, he has won the 400m in three separate competitions held in India, Thailand and the Philippines beating the Sri Lankan world record holder, Tilakaratne.
Although Chammeri only came 7th in the 400m competition in Jakarta, Indonesia, he is facing the Asian Athletics positively and hopes to take "strength and power" with him to the finishing line. Having arrived in Sri Lanka 4 days ago he has been training with his 12 teammates who have seen and been impressed by the new track at the Sugathadasa Stadium. Among his team-mates is another promising athlete, Ali Zankawi who recently claimed a silver medal in Jamaica. He will be competing at junior level in the hammer throwing competition.
Al'Sadih further commented that the Asian Athletics was an excellent "warm up" for his athletes ahead of the Asian Games to be held in Korea and that it was also an invaluable opportunity to watch the other athletes' performances.
Commenting on the increased participation of countries in the Asian Athletics, he said that the event would not only be an excellent opportunity for Sri Lanka to boost its international standing but that competitions on such a level also aided the promotion of athletics in small countries such as Kuwait.
With a population of only app. 900 000 and a small sporting Government budget he said it was difficult for Kuwait to compete with other much larger countries. However, he stated that should his team be successful in the Asian Athletics and subsequent Asian Games athletics may gain an increased following at home and inspire other young people to take an interest in athletics and represent their country in the future.
Sri Lanka athletic team for the Asian Championships
100m - Chinthaka de Soysa, K. S. Mendis, Ravindra Kumar, 200m - K. S. Mendis, Joy Danushka, Prasanna Amarasekera, 400m - Sugath Tillakaratne, Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Prasanna Amarasekera, 800m - Manoj Mushpakumara, C. Wijekoon, S. M. H. Sifrath, 1,500m - C. Wijekoon, T. V. T. Nishantha, H. K. S. Priyantha, 5,000m - K. Chandrasena, Indrajith Cooray, R. M. Y. G. N. Bandara, 10,000m - Anuruddha Indrajith Cooray, A. M. A. Bandara, R. M. Y. G. N. Bandara.
110m hurdles - A. A. I. Kumara, T. M. Nawagamuwa, V. G. N. Tharanga, 400m hurdles - Harijan Ratnayake, J. A. M. K. Jayasundara, A. M. P. P. S. Adhikari, 3,000m Steeple chase - P. S. C. Mendis, Indika Bandara, A. V. P. Hangarapitiya, 4 x 100m - Chinthaka de Soysa, A. R. M. C. B. Ramanayake, Ravindra Kumara, K. Suminda Mendis, N. S. B. Aludeniya, S. P. M. Hemantha
4 x 400m - Sugath Tillakaratne, Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Ranga Wimalawansa, Prasanna Amarasekera, N. S. B. Aludeniya, S. P. M. Hemantha. Discus throw - T. A. Alileema, K. G. U. P. Jayasundara, A. M. A. Jayakody, Long jump - P. K. Sujith Rohitha, Lalith Ravindra, L. W. R. Perera, Shot Putt - S. A. P. Silva, Sarath de Soysa, Amila Perera, Javelin throw - Pradeep Nishantha, K. A. G. C. Tillakaratne, P. K. Aluvihare, Pole Vault - A. I. R. P. Perera, J. A. D. P. B. Kanchana, R. N. C. P. Laksiri Triple jump - Sampath Weerasinghe, Gayan Sameera, J. A. M. K. Appuhamy Decathlon - O. B. A. R. Fonseka, G. H. R. Priyantha, J. A. A. D. C. Priyaranga, 20km walk - B. M. N. Nayanananda, M. D. Nimal, O. G. Somasuriya
100m: Susanthika Jayasinghe (Captain), Pradeepa Herath, Sriyani Kulawansa, 200m - Susanthika Jayasinghe, Damayanthi Darsha, Anoma Sooriyarachchi, 400m - Damayanthi Darsha, P. M. D. P. Wickremasinghe, K. L. L. Gunawardena, 800m - K. L. L. Gunawardena, A. Atapattu, R. S. Niluka, 1,500m - S. N. Silva, A. Atapattu, Reka Edirisinghe, 5,000 - D. A. Inoka, H. M. W. K. Herath, U. R. K. Udayasiri, 10,000m - M. A. Chandrawathi, D. A. Inoka, U. R. K. Udaedara.
100m hurdles - Sriyani Kulawansa, W. K. I. Umayanganee, Pradeepa Herath, 400m hurdles - S. V. A. Kusumawathi, K. K. C. Priyadarshani, M. A. Shamalee, Women's 4x100m - Susanthika Jayasinghe, Anoma Sooriyarachchi, Jani Chathurangani, Shalika Dias, L. S. Irangani, 4x400m: Damayanthi Darsha, P. M. D. P. Wickremasighe, K. L. L. Gunawardena, Nimmi de Soysa, L. S. Irangani, Swarnamali Edirisinghe.
Javelin throw - K. A. M. P. Silva, Nadeeka Lakmali, G. R. N. Fernando, Triple jump - Anusha Ekneligoda, A. A. D. Dinesha, D. K. Hemachandra, High jump - Chaturi Kodikara, S. S. K. Poddiwela, Tharanga Vinodani, Long Jump - Nayanthi Kumari Chandrasena, Anusha Ekneligoda, D. K. Hemachandra, Discus throw - Padma Nandani Wijesundara, Bishini Perera, Deepika Rodrigo, Heptathlon - Thamara Dissanayake, D. C. A. Dahanayake, Viyanka Velpahala, 20km walk - G. L. R. Priyadharshani, Pamitha Vanagabandu, M. N. A. K. Mapa.
Saudi Arabia looking for Seven Golds
Saudi Arabia will be hoping to win a minimum of seven gold medals at the 14th Asian Athletic Championships which begins at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Thursday. The Saudi team despite fielding a smaller contingent of twelve members are expected to make their presence felt especially in the track events. The team is spearheaded by Hamdam Pishi who is a professional athlete based in Los Angeles. Pishi who will compete in the men's 400 metres event is presently ranked number six in the World and is confident of winning the gold medal.
Hamdam Pishi said that the entire contingent is in good touch and that their preparations for the championships have been quite excellent. He said that prior to the championship they participated in several European and American track and field meets and gained good exposure by competing against some of the top athletes. In addition they also toured Rome and Sweden for training and then went through a coaching camp before arriving in Sri Lanka.
The Saudi team will also have in their ranks the men's 110 metres Asian Games gold medallist Mubarak Atta who is looking forward to displaying his skills and prove his capabilities. In the men's 100 metres and 200 metres they will have Hamet Pishi, Salam Yami and Jamal Safa who are fresh after participating in the recent World Junior athletic championships.
Mohamed Hussain is another medal prospect for Saudi Arabia having captured the bronze medal at the previous Goodwill Games in Australia. Another Asian Games record holder is Mohamed Sadat who is tipped to win the men's 3000 metres steeple chase. The Saudi Arabia team is looked after by a former Sri Lanka sprinter M. S. Hallaldeen. (C.D).
Johnston Fernando performed the impossible
by Dinesh Weerawansa
Ever since the new Cabinet was appointed after the United National Front Victory last December, I have been calling the new Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports, Johnston Fernando regularly to find out when the renovation work of the Sugathadasa Stadium would begin, in preparations for the X1Vth Asian Athletic Championship. "Wait! There is nothing to worry. It will be done soon," was the Minister's answer for nearly three months.
Having known the capabilities and organisation skills of Minister Johnston Fernando for well over a decade, since his Provincial councilor days at the North Western province in the early nineties, I took his word and did not question further as the days were nearing by. In the meantime, several newspaper articles were written by my fellow sports journalists and there was a big dialogue in both print and electronic media which frequently questioned whether Sri Lanka would ever be able to host the Asian Championship.
But I kept my patience, as I knew the stuff the Minister was made of. But by mid March, reasonable doubts started developing in my mind as I knew what a struggle Sri Lanka has to make against time and all odds to have re-developed stadium with a new running track plus a warm up track ready by July end.
By this time, the media campaign against the delay in awarding the tender to relay the Sugathadasa Stadium track was at its peak. There were no signs of a positive reply to a bidder as the days passed by. In the meantime, the Asian Amateur Athletic Association frequently questioned on the progress Sri Lanka has made in its preparations for the 43-nation meet.
Some of the local sports journalists went to the extent of writing to the world governing body - IAAF, condemning our own country and people, stating that Sri Lanka has done nothing in preparations to host the Asian Championship.
Some of the losing bidders of the lucrative tender approached me and requested appointments but I knew what they are looking for and politely avoided any meetings. "I will not allow anyone to make money out of this tender. We must carefully use public funds," the Minister said.
As we approached the end March, my confidence of having the meet in Colombo too started fading away due to reasonable doubts as Sri Lanka was running into the near impossible end of hosting the meet. By end March, I rang Minister Fernando to tell Sri Lanka is running into hot waters. But the youthful Minister exactly knew what he was talking.
"Give me a week or two, everything would be settled. Wait and see, I have a plan for this and everything would be just fine," replied the Minister. In exactly ten days from this, Minister Fernando broke the good news to me; "The tender has been awarded to the lowest bidder for Rs. 108 million. This is the best deal we have been looking for". At this point, Minister Fernando said they have warded the tender to R & D Sports. Many people who were unofficially lobbying for a huge Rs. 160-200 million tenders were thoroughly upset by the new move.
Then came the Asian Amateur Athletic Secretary General, Maurice Nicholas on the first of his three fact finding missions here in May. Many critics came to see Nicholas' inspection tour of the stadium, anticipating adverse comments from the veteran Asian athletic official. But to the surprise of all, the AAA Secretary General had high praise for the selection of the Rekortan track, which has even made its mark at Olympic and other international level.
Furthermore, the Asian AAA Secretary General was highly impressed by the keenness shown by Minister Fernando and his team, headed by the AAA President Sunil Jayaweera. Perhaps, Nicholas would have come to Colombo on May in the first of his inspection tours with reasonable doubts in his mind. But he left Sri Lanka with a completely different and positive picture and was of high praise for the organisation skills of the Lankans.
Minister Fernando got down all capable men and got the stadium renovation project going and achieved the near impossible at the end. Not only he had everything ready within four months and on schedule, but he was able to get one of the best running tracks in the world, despite saving Rs. 54 million of valuable public funds, considering the controversial previous deal of Rs. 160 million.
There was a time almost all of us thought that laying new competition track and a warm-up track and renovating the stadium in such a short time an impossible task. But Minister Fernando and his dedicated team have made it possible and all those critics who thought that Championship would be moved out of Sri Lanka have been made to eat their own words.
We all Sri Lankans should be proud of what we have achieved in having everything ready on schedule to host our Asian neighbors.
Thank you everybody who made this dream possible!
Produced by Lake House