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Mayumi - golden girl of swimming

SA GAMES: Winning ten medals, including three gold medals, is definitely an uphill task at any form of Games. Such a task for a 14-year-old schoolgirl at an eight-nation Games would look even more difficult. But this little mermaid simply did not care about the previous records and experience of the mighty Indians and was the cynosure of all eyes at Sugathadasa Stadium pool.


the golden girl : Mayumi Raheem on her way to victory

Yes! That was Mayumi Raheem, the golden girl in Sri Lanka swimming, the one who made our little island nation proud at the recently concluded 10th South Asian Games. She won gold medals in women’s 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke finals, all with new South Asian Games record timings. What a way to shine at the South Asian version of the Olympics!

Many would have wondered what her expectations when the Singapore-based Lankan wonder girl flew to her motherland for the Games. But Raheem says she never focused on medals, but was merely concentrating on her timings. “Prior to the Games, I was training really hard to achieve one goal; to do as many personal best times as possible. I never focused on the medals,” she said.

She trains at the Singapore Swimming Club, under the elite coach, Jaan Murphy. But she has made many sacrifices because of her sports career. “My school and my teachers have been very supportive about the fact that I have missed school for a long period of time to compete. They have also made catching up as less stressful as possible, she said in an exclusive interview from Singapore.

This year’s Singapore open meet made way for the little Lankan lass to show her capabilities before the SA Games. “My immediate highlight was my placings at the Singapore Open, where I set a meet record for the 200m Breast stroke. Prior to that, I went up to the semi finals in 50m breast stroke at the Commonwealth Games early this year,” she added.

Besides that Raheem has gained valuable exposure during the last couple of years. A few days after the Commonwealth Games in Australia, Raheem travelled to Shanghai for the Short Course World Championships.

“Last year, I competed in the World Championships in Montreal and the Asian Age Group in Bangkok. It was a good experience,” says Raheem, whose family has been based in Singapore for the last six years. But she has often participated at meets back home. At the Sri Lanka national championships last year, she won all five events she competed and was adjudged the best female swimmer of the meet.

Her dad is a pilot, working for Singapore Airlines and her mum is studying at a University. “I have two very cool sisters the older one is Machiko who is 10 years old and is studying at UWC, the younger one is Kimiko who is 7 years and is also studying at UWC,” said Raheem of her home front.

Both her sisters too are very talented at swimming, according to Mayumi Raheem. “I hope they would bring glory to our country in future. My mum did athletics in the Southern Province and played netball for the school. My dad was an outstanding rugby player, and was also an athlete and a swimmer,” she recalled her family connections to sports.

Raheem’s ultimate goal is the Olympics in sports and to make an academic career in medicine to be a doctor. Her dream swim recalled the sweet memories of Dipika Chanmugam who bagged a record seven gold medals at the 1991 South Asian Games in Colombo and went on to compete at the highest level. “My ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.

Academically, I would like to get into the medical field, following in the footsteps of my loku ammi and my cousin sisters,” she added.

Finally, the golden girl in Sri Lanka swimming thanked all those who contributed towards her success. “I have not become a champion overnight. It was not a journey on my own. There are many people dear to me, behind the scenes doing invisible work and making a huge difference to my performance. I have been supported by many people.

I would like to thank my lovely parents for always being behind me, making sure no harm comes my way, and providing me with copious amounts of love, and my funky sisters that come tagging along behind me, always being part of the cheering squad,” she continued.

Besides the immediate family members, Raheem had a long list of people to thank with her coach heading the list.

“I would also like to thank my coach who has made training hard, seem like an enjoyment and not a chore. I thank all my cousins - Shami akki, Sachini Akki, Ruwini Akki, Amali Akki, totally awesome Kayya, and all my other cousins who were too far away to come, heartilly, for attending all the swimming meets I have competed in Sri Lanka despite the fact that they are medical students and have so much work to do,” she said, making a special request from us to carry the long list of names.

“I am also thankful to my dear aunties and uncles, including all my previous swimming coaches, for always being behind me and making sure no harm comes my way, allowing me to focus on swimming only,” she said.

Raheem now plans to stick to a few events and concentrate fully to fulfill her Olympic dream in two years time. There is no point in doing too many events. Now, I want to concentrate on just three or four events, 50m, 100m, 200m breaststroke and 200m individual medley. Her immediate target is the 15th Asian Games in Doha in December. I want to compete in Doha. I will make every effort to make my country proud, she concluded.

Mayumi Raheem’s SA Games feats at-a-glance:

Gold medals:

Women’s 50m breaststroke: 34.97 sec.

Women’s 100m breaststroke: 1mt, 15.84 sec - NGR

Women’s 200m breaststroke: 2mts, 45.25 sec - NGR

Silver medals:

Women’s 50m freestyle: 28.87 seconds

Women’s 200m individual medley: 2mt, 30.98 sec.

Women’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay: SL team 9:38.41

Women’s 4 x 100m medley relay: SL team 4:49.12 4x100m Free style relay SL team 4:16.72

Bronze medals:

Women’s 100m freestyle: 1mt, 02.85 sec. - NR

Women’s 400m individual medley: 5mts, 26.21 sec.

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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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