Renowned international athletics coach Tonie Campbell promised to unearth and develop Sri Lanka’s next Olympic medal prospect, along with his former protégé Susanthika Jayasinghe and the National Olympic Committee (NOC).
Campbell mentored a young Jayasinghe to an Olympic medal in Sydney in 2000 – only the second Sri Lankan to achieve this – and will assist her in setting up a high performance programme for athletes and coaches in the country.
Jayasinghe is now the High Performance Director of the NOC, a role she took up two months ago, and was instrumental in bringing Campbell to Sri Lanka, with the coach spending two days meeting coaches and athletes, and travelling to three stadiums used for the sport in the country.
Campbell, recalled how well he had worked with Jayasinghe, and said their new mission was to find talented athletes who could end the medal drought the sport has gone through.
The special emphasis, Campbell said, would be to improve the level of coaching.
“I will be Susan's adviser in setting up this high performance programme. My function would be to work with Susan to help discover young athletes in this country that have been neglected in the past, to help the coaches set up coaching seminars and clinics to help the athletes become better,” he said.
“I believe we can develop Sri Lankan coaches instead of bringing coaches from overseas. This is the way of the future, because if you keep bringing coaches from different parts of the world they don’t have the same ideology and mentality of the Sri Lankan coach,” Campbell added.
Improving the coaching standards would require time and patience, Campbell warned, and a more viable short-term goal would be to help more athletes meet Olympic qualification times.
“It's going to take some time to develop the coaches so in the meantime we want to focus on the immediate goals, which is trying to get some people ready for next year. I think the sports minister's going to want to see results so we are going to be result orientated – we're going to find talent, we’re going to look for it and work hard to see if at least one Sri Lankan can make a final in some event in Tokyo. This is our goal and mission and we started by talking to young athletes and coaches and let them know that going forward we are going to have the best possible coaches for them here in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Every coach must have international accreditation by the IAAF as a coach that has passed the standard. I think every coach in Sri Lanka should have passed these exams because then we can be certified and recognised by our governing body. We have some good coaches but this is a requirement to certify themselves and once they have that then we can look at the common sense things – like communication related skills. Make sure they are educated enough so that can relay those messages to the athletes, like the different conditions they may have to participate in for example.”
This arrangement had been at least three years in the making, Campbell added, saying that it was Jayasinghe who approached him to help improve the standard of athletics in the country.
“When I came to Sri Lanka for Susan's medal ceremony three of four years ago (when Jayasinghe was re-awarded the Olympic silver medal), we started discussing the possibility of this programme and she asked if I would help her to which I agreed. We've been exchanging messages about this for the last few years and she kept telling me to wait because things happen slowly in this country. Finally she called me (after becoming High Performance Director) and said there was some progress and if I could come,” he recalled.
Jayasinghe echoed Campbell’s concerns about the level of coaching in the country, saying there was a huge discrepancy between local coaches and coaches at international events.
“I think this is a good opportunity for us to improve the standard of our local coaches and help them learn and understand modern ways of coaching,” she said.
NOC Vice President Asanga Seneviratne meanwhile, said they were looking to replicate the High Performance programme model for all the other sports that come under its umbrella.
“We want to work with Tonie in the long run. The NOC really isn’t supposed to be doing high performance but we have taken the initiative with our Secretary General to start this because the associations really need to get off the ground and start supporting their athletes. We want to use the same model for all 33 sports in the NOC,” he said.