With expectations to win a mere 15 Gold Medals at the 10th South Asian Games (SAG), the host country has far exceeded their expectations by bagging more than 30 Gold medals (still counting) up to now! Being unable to locate the entire Gold Team, we managed to take a sneak peak into the lives of a few.
Starting off the ?Gold Rush? was young Mayumi Raheem (14) with her exceptional haul of 10 medals - three Gold, Five Silver and two Bronze! Winning Gold for the 50m, 100m and 200m Breast Stroke events, Mayumi remains humble, calm and collected. Now residing in Singapore, Mayumi, started off her swimming career here in Sri Lanka, when she was very young. Having attended Musaeus College, she first trained under coaches Feizal Junaid and Sumith Dharmadasa both at Otters and at the SSC. Having trained with former SAF ace, Julian Bolling`s Rainbow team, leading up to the SAG, she trains back in Singapore under Jaan Murphy.
?I just came down to do my best to the best of my abilities, if that got me some medals that`s great and I`m very happy for it,? she said modestly.
Taking over from her was the other youngster Andrew Abeysinghe (15), who bagged two Golds for the 100m and 200m backstroke events. Now residing in the USA, Andrew`s participation in the SAG created some waves on the local front, as he was unable to make it down in time for the trials. As a result, he was denied participation in five more events that he should have qualified for, based on his timings, he said. Having started when he was just nine, his father, also a former swimmer for Royal College - Manoj Abeysinghe, started to coach him. From that time onwards there was no turning back, and he just kept getting better and better, outdoing himself time and again! Training throughout the year, irrespective of whether there are meets or not.
First up were the two victorious cyclists who each won a gold medal in the Time Trial individual event for Men, at this year`s SAG. A father of two an army officer C.P. Meemanage (29) from, Homagama, despite being faced with a few problems on the way managed to turn out trumps! As Captain of the Sri Lanka cycling team, he led from the front and proved his prowess, by achieving his personal best average of 42.64 minutes in his event, he said.
Having quite a commendable track record, from the time he started racing in 1994, he only took it up seriously after being donated a racing bicycle by H.S. Kamal Palitha in 1997. Thereafter, Meemanage`s rapid progression has been quite evident. Joining the forces in 1998, he participated in many national level events and event represented Sri Lanka at numerous races overseas. He`s won more than 10 major races in the country including the title of National Champion in 2000. His international exposure spans across the globe to include countries from Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Pakistan to the likes of Croatia and Poland as well, he said.
Having being selected for the National team, he was dropped from the squad in May this year, due to a problem with his national ranking. But as fate would have it, due to two of the country`s top cyclists going missing, Meemanage was urgently recalled to join the team on August 1, despite some officials not being too happy with this decision, he said. Although he was left with a mere 20 days to train with the national team, as he had anyhow been training on his own as well, he wasn`t lagging behind. Nevertheless, Meemanage was not to be disheartened or discouraged, if at all this incident only made his will to succeed stronger; nothing could break him!
Starting off her spate of wins whilst she was still in school at Swarnapali Balika Maha Vidyalaya in Anuradhapura, at a sports meet in 1995, Sriyalatha, went from strength to strength. Having two elder brothers who race, she automatically had two personal trainers, she said smilingly. Guided by her two brothers, she gradually improved, winning race after race, eventually earning the title of national champion seven years consecutively (1999-2005).
Having trained with her brothers till 2000, after which she started training under the national coach Upali Ratnayake. SAG, Sriyalatha ranked number one in the country but, due to illness couldn`t train for a while. However, due to Ratnayake urging her to go for the SAG trials, she had done so and was then selected to participate in the Games. Although lagging a bit behind due to her not training for a while, with the help of both local Coaches Upali Ratnayake and Kusalani Wickramaratna and Coach Cho Keon who was brought down by the Sri Lanka Cycling Confederation, from Korea to help train the team for SAG, she managed to get back on `track` just in time for the Games.
Moving right along, we come to a sport relatively unheard of on the local scene, yet a rather fascinating sport to watch?Wushu. Our Lankan team of 12 members walked away with a total of 10 medals, inclusive of four Golds. Quite a significant feat I`d say, especially considering that the Taolu segment of Wushu was only introduced to SAG this year.
Winning Gold in Taolu ? (Changquan - Daoshu ? Gunshu), Asanka Sujeewan (23) from Mahawa, that the art of Changquan requires great flexibility and athleticism and whoever comes closest to performing the art without breaking any of the rules, stands the best chance of getting Gold. His first trained under Mahendra Ekanayake, whilst he was still in school at the Mahawa Vijayaba
Moving straight from one Martial Art to another, I spoke to the `Golden Girls` of Karate Do, the Women`s Kata Team that won the Team Kata Gold at the Games. First up was Durga Harshani Ileperuma (18), a Bio student studying at St. Paul`s Milagiriya, from Panadura. A Black Belt in Gensei-Ryu, she has been training under Shihan Anura A. Kaththiriarachchi.
Having seen a Karate display whilst in School, she had become interested in the art and had started training when she was in Grade eight. After they had done a Karate display this year, their coach had asked them to apply for SAG as he believed that they were good enough, she said. ?Mainly due to our coach`s encouragement, we managed to fulfil this dream,? she added.
?I was overjoyed to have won a Gold, particularly as it was my first time participating in the SAG and I was one of the babies of the team? she said gleefully. She couldn`t have done it without the support of her parents who would pick and drop her at practice, irrespective of how late it got and for their Sensei, he would always be there behind them, pushing them forward, she added. He also wanted to thank The Yala Sports Club (from her father`s hometown) that has always supported her. ?It was amazing how everyone would cheer for us and all the Sensei`s, irrespective of their Federation or Karate style, took a lot of trouble to help us out; we were one team representing our country,? she said proudly.
Sangeevani Lakmali Ranasinghe (29) the next team member from Eheliyagoda, also won a Silver for Individual Kata. Also a Black Belt, she has even won a Bronze for Kumite, at the 1999 SAF Games in Nepal, thus making this her second Games. Having completed her exams at the Law College of Sri Lanka, she`s now following her apprenticeship.
Having first started Karate when she was attending the Ferguson High School in Ratnapura, she is one of Shihan Kaththiriarachchi`s oldest protégé`s, she said. Now married, her husband still encourages her to pursue Karate, as he`s is quite supportive of her and always encouraged to continue her Karate, she added. Having studied at the University of Jayawardanapura, she also participated in the University Games in Japan (2000), the Asian Games in 1997 and the Asian Games in Singapore in 1999. ?Sometimes, I`d return from one of the Games, with an exam the very next day but, somehow I managed to juggle the two around and never missed either an exam or tournament because of the other, she said smilingly.
Next up was team mate, Viveka Kaththiriarachchi (21), who quite obviously trained under her father, the National Coach. She was initially drawn to the sport whilst living in Japan for a year in 1991, where she saw many displays and also due to watching her father practice and perform from the time she was very small, she said.
Now, following a BSC in Micro Biology at the Bangalore University in India, she had come down especially to participate in the SAG, she said. Having studied at St. Paul`s Milagiriya, she also represented Sri Lanka at the Junior Karate Championship in Japan in 2003.
?I was very proud to and happy to be able to represent and win a Gold for my country, in my very first time participation at the SAG,? she said joyfully. The last of the girls, A.D.K. Chamindi Asanthimala (18) from Polgasowita, also a Black Belt, started Karate about five years ago. She too had got interested in the art, after having seen the same Karate display when in school at St. Paul`s Milagiriya, she too started out when she was just in Grade eight.
Having trained under Shihan Kaththiriarachchi both at school and privately about twice a week, they were made to undergo a much more rigorous practice schedule of up to five days a week, leading up to the SAG, she added. Having won and being placed in many national level tournaments, she says that the focus and discipline she has learnt via Karate has helped her even with her studies, she said. ?In addition, even ?Sir? always encourages us to study and not neglect our school work,? she added.
?I`m very happy about our performance at the SAG and have very high expectations for the Asian Tournament to be held in Doha this December? she said excitedly.