By Susil Premalal
The number of athletes sponsored under the ‘Next Olympic Champ’ programme, an initiative by Crysbro in partnership with the National Olympic Committee, has increased to 20.
It is one of the most unique and forward-thinking initiatives that has been started in Sri Lankan sports.
Initially, the selection committee selected 12 athletes and added the remaining eight just prior to island-wide travel restrictions.
The main aim of this programme is to help and sustain identified junior athletes of Sri Lanka and elevate them to be the next contenders of top tier athletes and produce medal winners with eyes for the third Olympic medal in Lankan history.
Shehan Ambepitiya, who was one of the live wire selectors of this programme, said: “I ended up winning a lot of international medals those days, but I did not have the cushioning and backing that this programme could offer to hone my skills.
“The selectors, especially Ineka (Cooray) and I, were absolutely careful to do the right selections and to reach this final total of 20 athletes. We interviewed around 70 probable athletes, who were equally good and had the credentials to back it. Just to elaborate this point, to select the last lot of athletes, we waited till the last National athletic trials which were held recently. There, we discovered a young high jumper who cleared 1.67 metres and she is in the programme now."
“The programme was not compiled haphazardly. We went into minute detail. It covers all aspects – medical, travelling, coaching, nutrition and more, and as a result the athletes are not under external pressure in most aspects."
“The other unique aspect in this programme is that this is not confined only to athletics and it covers a lot more sports whom we thought that could be in line with our final goal - the next Olympic gold.”
Under this programme each athlete gets an accumulated amount of Rs. 47,000.00 per month for their training. However, Colombo International School, Kandy athlete Seneca Guneratne and gymnast Milka Gehani who is on an Olympic Solidarity course in Japan have been co-opted to the scholarship.
Describing the present status of the programme, one of the senior organisers said, “Right now these young athletes are engaged only in training as a result of the prevailing pandemic situation, so keeping a tab on improvement is rather hypothetical, but when the competition gets back to normal it would be business as usual."
“This programme is an ongoing one where the sponsors have made their mark where it ends up with an Olympic medal. That is why the programme is also named ‘NOCSL-Crysbro Next Olympic Champ.’ Vindicating this, the programme already has Milka Gehani who has taken the Lankan gymnastic world by storm by becoming Sri Lanka’s first gymnast to pass the qualifying status for the 2020 Olympics. In all probabilities, she would become a real Olympic hope the moment she gets the official nod."
“All 20 athletes who are in the fray are hand-picked winners of various sports and they have the option of growing with the Crysbro-NOCSL sports family to grow beyond the stipulated agreement of two years.”