Fifth Column

1st October 2000

Your win is worth more than gold

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My Dear Susanthika,

I know that everybody who is somebody is writing to you these days with congratulatory messages, but even then I thought I must write to you after what you achieved for little Sri Lanka on Thursday.

Of course, the sight of you with Marion Jones and the girl from Bahamas at the podium with the Lion Flag fluttering against the Sydney sky brought tears of pride to many eyes, even if they were watching it on television, thousands of miles away in Sri Lanka.

Then, just seconds after your victory they showed Satellite's picture and for a moment I thought that it was she who had run the race and won the medal- but then, this is election time and you must excuse her!

But you are used to these things, aren't you? After all, just days before you left for the Olympics, Seeni Bola was saying that you didn't take part in some race because you were afraid of losing. Then he gifted a car to one of your colleagues who participated in such a race. And then, the man who was in charge of our athletes in Sydney was also complaining that you are no good because you didn't attend practices with the others!

And then, when you decided to run your races wearing that yellow ribbon- which was a symbol of the call for a free and fair election- officials tried to stop that too and we heard that you had given them a good answer!

Of course, we all know that these incidents are trivial issues considering what you had to undergo. Why, they even tried to frame your husband on some charge, just to harass you. During those stressful days I remember you once declared that the best answer to your tormentors would be a medal at the Sydney Olympics, so I wonder how they will react to your medal winning performance now!

Of course, this being election time, they might decide to shower you with prizes hoping that you will let bygones be bygones. There may be gifts of cars, land and they may even honour you with a 'Deshabandu'. You deserve all of that, Susanthika and you can even forgive them but we hope you will not forget what was done to you- we certainly won't! You won not because of them, but despite them!

We heard you say after winning the medal that if not for the harassment you underwent, you would have won gold. I don't know what Marion Jones would have said to that but we certainly admire you not only for your talent in athletics but also for the courage you have showed. For a relatively unknown girl from Warakapola to fight against great odds requires great strength of character and that's what makes your performance all the more significant!

Of course, Susanthika, you must also realize that you can't please all, all the time. Why, our honourable Prime Minister has said that had you would have won silver or gold had you not worn that yellow band!

That makes us wonder, Susanthika whether replacing an octogenarian Prime Minister with a septuagenarian one is like going from the frying pan to the fire but then you must not take such things seriously because ever since independence we have had many Prime Ministers and Presidents and countless numbers of ministers but we have had only two Olympic winners.

But we do hope that success will not do to you what it did to some members of our cricket team after they won the World Cup. But then, you have faced greater challenges and overcome them, so you should have no problems in dealing with fame and fortune.

So, you can rest assured that whatever you do in the future, your name is guaranteed a place in our little country's history because millions of Sri Lankans saw in you a reason to smile after long years of war, poverty and for them that bronze medal you won is worth more than its weight in gold!

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha.

PS- When you return to the country after your triumph, they are bound to roll out the red carpet for you. But beware, because this is election time and Seeni Bola might be there in person to welcome you! Anyway the best of luck to you and always remember, you run faster only when someone is running after you!

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