By Susil Premalal
Former national athlete Shehan Ambepitiya said that the training he underwent in Jamaica alongside legend Usain Bolt had a negative impact on his development.
“The special training I got from Olympic legend Usain Bolt and other Jamaican international sprinters in the 100 and 200 metres was an experience I will never forget. The knowledge I gained was invaluable. However, it also ruined my career,” revealed Sri Lanka’s former sprint ace Shehan Ambepitiya.
The Sri Lankan athletic star feels he could have brought more glory to the country if he had not undergone special training in Jamaica in 2011 in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.
Ambepitiya underwent training in Jamaica in 2011-12 in a special programme organized by the World Athletics (formerly IAAF) where they came under the wing of Bolt’s coach Glen Mills.
“The training programme was not suitable for up and coming athletics like me. Since it was a training camp for world and Olympic level athletes we had to train along with Usain Bolt and other super stars. I could not cope with the weights training and fitness training during that camp. My body could not endure it physically. I suffered injuries after following this training schedule. Also the athletes consumed various types of ‘supplements’ to enhance their energy level. This was not suitable for us. It is better for us to get down foreign coaches and train here than go abroad for training. Taking my experience as an example we should think twice in future before deciding to send our athletes for high intensity training overseas,” he said.
Shehan Ambepitiya who began his athletic career in 2000 burst into the international limelight when he won a triple ‘gold’ in the 100, 200 and 4x400m relay at the Commonwealth Youth Games held in Pune, India in 2008. A product of President’s College, Rajagiriya and Gateway College, Ambepitiya was crowned the Fastest Youth Athlete in the Commonwealth region in 2008.
He was also adjudged the Fastest Junior Athlete in South Asia (2007), second Fastest Junior Athlete in Asia (2008), seventh Fastest Junior Athlete in the world (2008), Fastest man in South Asia, sixth Fastest man in Asia and represented the country at the World Championship. National junior record holder in both the 100 and 200 metre events and national record holder in the 4x100m relay, Ambepitiya’s personal best in the 100 is 10.31 and 21.10 in the 200.
Ambepitiya is a star athlete who balanced both education and sports well. A senior marketing executive in a leading company in Sri Lanka, he obtained his Masters in Business Administration (2017) from the University of West London (UK) and BBA in Marketing (2015) from Northwood University (USA).
“To tell you the truth, when I was small I never liked athletics. Most of my close relatives were engaged in cricket. Kumara Dharmasena is a cousin of mine. Everyone thought I would also play cricket. It was the student leaders in my school who entered me for inter-house events. I took part in the under 13 100 metre and long jump events. Since I showed some skills I was selected to take part at zonal, provincial and national level in athletics. Thereafter I was taken on a scholarship by Gateway College. Gateway founder Alles Sir told me one day ‘Shehan even if you win an Olympic medal, without education it won’t be of use’. Since I followed his advice and balanced sports and education, I am in a good position,” he said.
“In Sri Lanka if you play cricket or rugby only you become a brand name. Other sports don’t have a brand. That is why cricket and rugby are more popular. When the National Athletic Championships is conducted, it is like a funeral house. It is sad. However, during the period 1991-2000 when the likes of Darsha, Sriyani, Susanthika, Sriyantha, Sugath and Rohan were running, athletics was at the peak of its popularity. The Olympic Solidarity programmes, high intensity training and national development pool which was in existence those days is not there now. The athletics governing body, sports ministry and NOC (National Olympic Committee) are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. If these three authorities unite, the sport could develop. But they cannot work together because they are different administrative bodies,” he observed.
Ambepitiya has no intentions of becoming an athletic coach but would like to get involved in the administration of the sport not with the intention of occupying seats of power but to improve the welfare of athletes and make them professional.