BY Champika Fernando
The country’s most celebrated sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe launched a scathing attack on sports administrators for a succession of lacklustre results in athletics on the international stage.
Sri Lanka has won 16 medals, including five gold, since the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 but its performance had taken a severe beating in recent years--to the extent that it seems impossible to turn the tide.
“There’s a fundamental flaw in our system,” said Jayasinghe, the only Sri Lankan to have won an Olympic silver and two World Championships medals.
“It’s like baking a cake. The combination of right ingredients at the right scale would give you the correct consistency and texture. The logic is similar here. If you need consistent performance, keep to the recipe,” she explained .
Sri Lanka last won an Asian Games medal in 2006 when Jayasinghe clinched a silver and a bronze. It was her last Asian Games appearance before calling it quits two years later.
“No point building stadiums and other infra-structure facilities unless there’s proper planning,” she stressed.
“There’s so much money being spent on construction of grounds and the stadiums but very little emphasis on sportsmen and women,” she said. “We need to formulate an athlete-centred program, one that will look after the well-being and the welfare of the athlete.”Brought up in an average Sri Lankan family, Jayasinghe defied the odds to change the county’s athletics fortunes by winning its maiden World Championships in 1997 before clinching a silver at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. She also won a bronze at the 2007 World Championship in Osaka. “Of course, there were issues when we were running but at least those administrators had a plan. They understood the importance of keeping the athletes fully relaxed and mentally geared up for the big races which I do not see today,” Jayasinghe explained.
“We were given targets and those who achieved those targets were rewarded handsomely. We need a system like that. Athletes are no longer amateurs. We need to understand this and treat them as professionals who sweat day and night for professional success just like anybody else,” she continued.
Despite being the only South Asian to win Olympics and World Championships medals in sprint, Jayasinghe’s services are not being sought after by the local administrators.
“Not only me. We have produced the best in sprints in Asia. (Damayanthi) Darsha, Sugath (Thilekeratne) and Sriyani Kulawansa have all made this country proud. What have been their contribution after retirement? Has anyone bothered to ask them, what need to be done to change the flagging fortunes. No,” she added.As someone who succeeded purely on her own hard work and dedication, Jayasinghe headed into retirement determined to produce Olympic medal-winning runners for Sri Lanka. She plans to set up her own academy in the near future/
“This has been the dream for me ever since I retired, even though I have not been able to do it so far. But just as I realized my dream of winning an Olympic medal, I will achieve this,” she said “I am convinced that what we lack in Sri Lanka is not talent, but the basic, modern and scientific facilities. If we train our young Indian sports talents, nothing-- even many Olympic medals -- is unachievable,” she concluded. Jayasinghe is also a presidential coordinator in addition to her roles as a vice-president of the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka and an adviser to the Ministry of Sports.