The village damsel with a 100m record | Daily News

The village damsel with a 100m record

DESHABANDU SRIYANI KULAWANSA

Classy women hurdlers in Sri Lanka are rare. They don’t hurdle out from schools or clubs that easy. Like all athletes do, they have to undergo utmost suffering, training, running consistently, wasting tons of energy, sweat and toil to finally emerge perfect and run in competitions locally and internationally.

Most women athletes, be it in any of their events they choose, tend to give up in frustration unable to go through the strict training regimens that their coaches have drawn up for them.

But one women hurdler who suffered all training trauma, pushed side all obstacles and believed that she could do better than what any other women hurdler could do in the country was MOHOTTI ARACHICHILAGE DESHABANDU SRIYANI KULAWANSA. She finally ended up as probably the best women hurdler the country has seen or who knows will ever.

Phenomenal rise

Her phenomenal rise to fame and stardom, gives the writer great joy, to a reproduce a fact to the budding hurdling generation that has been closeted into posterity. And that is that SRIYANI faced the starter’s orders at the Olympics Games in 1992 in Spain at the tender age of 22.

That she could not do anything of note at the Games as that was her first fling, probably unnerved by the full house of 70 thousand spectators wildly cheering the other hurdlers.

She came back having been placed 28th out of 80 hurdlers which in fact was quite an achievement. Yet, a little disappointed, her determination to succeed at the next games pumped her resolve as she continued to train assiduously.

Determined

She was determined to be at the next Olympic Games four years later in 1996 in the US and with her coach, the excellent and illustrious Dervin Perera taking her under his wing. He addressed all her little shortcomings. He built her confidence up to face the best hurdlers in the word circuit. No longer was she rattled by the crowds but was determined, believe in herself and to be prepared to leave a mark to be remembered.

And that is exactly what she achieved. At the age of 26 when all athletes reach their peak, that she made it to the quarter-finals in the Atlanta Games in the USA. She had a very creditable personal best timing in the 100 metre hurdles with 12.91 seconds, hurdling with some of the best in the world was rewarding and great pride to little Sri Lanka.

She persevered with her hurdling career and enjoyed her best days when she participated in the Asian Championships showing great consistency, especially in 1998 where she pocketed the Silver Medal in the Commonwealth Games and Bronze in the Asian Games.

70 International Games

Believe it or not she stayed in the track from 1989 to 2004 running in 70 international games, and hugging the South Asian Games hurdling record all by herself.

Born on March 1, 1970 in Melsiripura in Kurunegala, this is how her illustrious and rewarding athletic career, especially in hurdling unfolded. She lived in a house based on a hill and had to always run up and down the hill for the needs of the home. Her constant running made her realize her potential for athletics that finally helped her reach her goal.

She began her education at Udakadwala Primary School and then moved onto Ibbagamuwa Central College where when it came to sports she was keen on athletics, netball, elle and volleyball which she loved. She won all these events in the All Island Championships.

Shone like a star

She really shone like a star and showcased her talents. She won the title as the Best Sportswoman in athletics, netball and volleyball. It was once she reached national level that she had to reluctantly forget netball and volleyball and focus on athletics that ran freely in her genes.

There was a turning point in her career that may have called finis to her career that promised much. It is said that when she was picked for the Asian Games squad in the High Jump event it was done away with sadly lacking participants.

She wanted to quit the games, but fortune prompted her not to quit and thanks to her parents and coach’s Derwin Perera’s coaxing, she stayed back then switched to hurdles which finally led to fame and stardom.

Three Olympic Games

True she faced the starter at three Olympic Games, but it is the brilliant breasting of the tape to win the Silver Medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, is what she treasures most, because that was the only time she was asked what she wanted for achieving that feat.

It is sad but true that her village lacked the all important electricity. She humbly made a request for electricity to be installed in her village. And Minister Anurudha Ratwatte, Shalinda Dissanayake and President Chandrika Kumaranathunga granted her urgently needed request . And hey presto! In a month’s time electricity was provided in her village for which even today she is ever grateful and so are the people in the area.

She was picked for the 2004 Olympic Games too for her perseverance in hurdles, but being 34 she decided right, when today’s sportsmen and women would want to continue well passed their peak to continue and make a laugh of themselves, to quit once she returned.

Tribute to S. B. Dissanayake

SRIYANI also pays a big tribute to former Sports Minister S. B. DISSANAYAKE who was dedicated to see to the improvement of sports country wide, especially athletics in the rural areas and it was during his reign that athletes from little known villages made it to the big league and world spotlight. Dissanayake it is said held training camps with all facilities right round the year.

Where are the likes of the SRIYANI KULAWANA’S now?

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