Sri Lanka’s chances of securing an Olympic medal in the foreseeable future seem extremely bleak due to several shortcomings in its national development structure, according to local swimming legend and veteran coach Julian Bolling.
Bolling, who has represented Sri Lanka at three Olympics, says that most of the country’s senior swimmers lack the international exposure necessary to elevate their performance to the next level.
“There has to be a proper plan in place. Most importantly, our swimmers need to see much more foreign competition. Without this there is very little hope of us producing Olympic medal-winning swimmers,” he explained.
The former 15-time SAF gold medalist added that besides a shortage of international action, Sri Lankan swimmers were also hampered by other major obstacles. “We have a situation in Sri Lanka where after completing their A-Levels, most local swimmers move away from the sport. There needs to be an incentive for them to stay. Senior swimmers need to be paid when they go out on tours.
“Even if you look at the swimmers among our junior ranks, most of them have to spend hours at tuition, and as a result they miss out on practice time that swimmers from other countries might have.”
However, Bolling did stress that the country did possess swimmers with enormous swimming potential, such as Mathew Abeysinghe and Heshan Unamboowe, who along with Reshika Udugampola will represent Sri Lanka at this year’s London Olympics.
The swim coach says the reason that these athletes enjoy such success is because of their “incredible talent and commitment to the sport.”
He expressed that one of the measures that needed to be taken for the upliftment of the sport was the implementation of higher standards for tour selection, ensuring that it was more competitive and less guaranteed.
“We should also look to India as a place for tours for three reasons. It is affordable, accommodation is easy to find, and there is a spirit of competition that grows. If they beat you, you will want to go back the next year and beat them,” he says.
Reflecting on whether the sport has really progressed since his days in the pool, Bolling states that the answer rests in a region of uncertainty.
“It is hard to say. You get talented swimmers, really good swimmers, who have done very well, like Mineka Karunaratne, who won gold at the SAF games. But then there are records of mine that are still standing after 25 years. So you have to ask as to why that is the case.”