Sri Lanka’s leading athletes will be exploding into action at the Khalifa International Stadium on Sunday (21) when the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships gets underway in Doha, Qatar.
Asia’s premier athletic competition will attract the top stars in the region as it serves as a qualifier for the World Athletics Championship to be held from September 28 to October 6 also in Doha.
Sri Lanka will be represented by a 15-member squad at the Asian gala but none of the athletes have achieved the qualifying standard for the World Championship.
This international meet will provide a golden opportunity for Sri Lankan athletes to raise the bar and achieve qualification for the world event.
Seven athletes from Sri Lanka will be coming out of the blocks on day one of the competition in their bid to aim for glory at the championships which will continue till April 24.
Nimali Liyanarachchi and Gayanthika Abeyratne, gold and silver medallists respectively in the 800 metres women event at the last edition of the championship will be the first Sri Lankan athletes on the track in Doha.
“I am not only confident of defending the 800m title I won last time but also hope to improve my timing to achieve qualification for the World Championship,” said Sri Lanka’s team captain Liyanarachchi before her departure for the event.
Liyanarachchi has a personal best of 2:02.58 set in Diyagama in 2017 which is better than her gold medal effort of 2:05.23. Abeyratne’s silver medal timing was 2:05.27.
Next on the field is Shreshan Dananjaya who will be participating in the qualifying round of the triple jump event.
Dananjaya’s best achievement at the international level has been a fourth place at the Asian Junior Athletic Championship and this will be the 22-year-old’s debut at the senior international level.
He got a personal best of 16.79 metres in the triple jump this year at the selection trials.
Ransiru Chaturanga will also make his international debut when he competes in the first round of the Men’s 800 metres event.
The 24-year-old recorded a personal best time of 1:48.10 early this year.
Ajith Premakumara and Nadeesha Kumari Ratnayake will get on the track in the first round of the 400 metre event.
Premakumara was a member of the silver medal winning 4x400 Sri Lanka Men’s relay team at the last edition of the championship held in Bhubaneswar, India in 2017.
He has a personal best of 46.38. Ratnayake is making her international debut and has a personal best of 53.03 in the one-lap event.
Sri Lanka’s medal hope in the Men’s 100 metre event Himasha Eshan will be bursting off the blocks in the first round when the competition resumes after the Opening Ceremony after dusk.
South Asia’s fastest runner and Sri Lanka’s record holder, Eshan has clocked a personal best of 10.22 at the final selection trials held at the Sugathadasa Stadium in February.
“My main aim this year is to clock a time of 10 seconds in the 100 metres. I am hoping I could achieve this at the Asian Championship in Doha since I will be running against the top athletes in the region,” said Eshan before his departure.
Maj. Gen. Palitha Fernando, President of the Athletics Association of Sri Lanka, said they were hopeful of improving their medal haul from the last edition.
“We won a total of five medals (one gold and four silver) at the last edition of the meet in India. We are aiming to win a few more medals in Doha this time. However, we will miss a medal opportunity in the Men’s 4x400m relay event in which we won a silver medal last time. Sri Lanka will also miss the services of sprinter Rumeshika Ratnayake, silver medallist in the Women’s 200 metres event at the Asian Championship,” he said.
Ratnayake is presently undergoing training in the United States and was not selected for the Asian competition because she failed to appear in the National selection trials held recently.
At the last edition of the Asian Athletics Championship, Sri Lanka won five medals, including gold in the Women’s 800m by Liyanarachchi and four silver medals through Dilhani Lekamge (Javelin), Rumeshika Ratnayake (200m), Gayanthika Abeyratne (800m) and in the 4x400m Men’s Relay (Tharusha Dananjaya, Kalinga Kumarage, Ajith Premakumara and Dilip Ruwan)
In the history of the Asian Athletics Championships which began in 1973, Sri Lanka has won a total of 52 medals - 19 gold, 14 silver and 19 bronze medals.
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