By Shehan Daniel reporting from Tokyo, Japan
Not all dreams have fairy tale endings. Nimali Liyanarchchi achieved her decade-long dream of competing in an Olympics today when she took part in the first round of the Women’s 800m event at Tokyo 2020, but the ending was far from inspiring, as she finished last in her heat and was well off the pace overall.
She finished with a time of 2:10.3secs, well below her personal best of 2:02.58secs, and 11 seconds shy of the fastest time set by Natoya Goule of Jamaica in the heats.
By her own admission before travelling to Japan, she was lucky to be in Tokyo, having only made the cut when Nilani Rathnayake, the Women’s Steeplechaser, was rendered ineligible after falling down the rankings in the final update before the Olympic qualification deadline.
She is not the number one athlete in this event in the country, with a younger challenger, Dilshi Kumarasinghe, setting a new national record in the event this year. However, an injury during the selection trials meant that Kumarasinghe had to miss out on Tokyo 2020, ultimately to Liyanarachchi’s benefit.
Her story is stirring – from growing up in difficult circumstances having lost her father at a young age, to then changing her preferred event due to health reasons and still making an Olympic Games.
So as luck would have it, a girl with humble beginnings from Hambantota, made it onto the world’s biggest stage, running alongside Raevyn Rogers, the fourth best athlete in the world for her event. She literally ran alongside Rogers when, after lagging at the back for the first 200m, she ran on the outside for the rest of the first lap, getting alongside the leading pack.
But that move proved too costly and as she expended far too much energy and fell further behind to finish almost six seconds behind her closest opponent, and 43rd of the 45 runners who took part in the six heats.
“I am not satisfied with the time. I was up with the pack but then the race got away from me and when that happens it’s hard to get back into it,” Liyanarachchi said after the race.
“It’s taken 10 years of hard work to get here, and I am happy that I was able to take part in the Olympics. I am happy that I was able to compete against some of the best athletes in the world.”
While she may never get to relive her Olympic dream – she turns 32 this year – Liyanarachchi believes the experience from taking part was more important than the final result, and it would be a stepping-stone for her ambition of winning an Asian Games medal.
“This has been a learning experience for me. My goal is to win a medal at the Asian Games, and all my hard work is towards achieving that,” she also said.