Former Sri Lanka sprinter Ineka Cooray warned that authorities must take measures to prevent talented young athletes from burning out because of overtraining or peaking too early in their careers to ensure longevity. A former Sri Lanka record holder in the Women’s 100metre and silver medallist at the Colombo SAF (South Asian Games) in 1991, [...]


Beware! Athletes burn out by overtraining

Former Sri Lanka star Ineka Cooray says young athletes have to be nurtured carefully if they are to produce results in the long term

Ineka Cooray on the podium at the Western Athletic Conference USA

Former Sri Lanka sprinter Ineka Cooray warned that authorities must take measures to prevent talented young athletes from burning out because of overtraining or peaking too early in their careers to ensure longevity.

A former Sri Lanka record holder in the Women’s 100metre and silver medallist at the Colombo SAF (South Asian Games) in 1991, Ineka started her career at the age of 15 and went on to represent the University of Texas in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Championship.

Going by her own experience, she is carefully nurturing her two promising daughters to represent Sri Lanka in athletics in the future.

“They were chosen to take part in meets when they were very young. We could not stop it because the school was pushing it. We should not make athletes run so early. They should not be loaded with training schedules they cannot cope with at a young age,” said Ineka Cooray Wickremesinghe, speaking as a mother of two teenage children.

Both Siyana, 19, and Shanaya, 17, displayed talent to be placed third a couple of times in the 100/200metre events in All Island meets. But they may be lost to the sport since they are pursuing higher studies.

“I wanted Siyana to run for Sri Lanka but now she is going to university. She (Siyana) has taken a break to focus on her online studies,” said Ineka of her elder daughter who has enrolled at the University of San Diego to do a degree in Economics.

Shanaya Wickremesinghe

“I made sure she doesn’t train too much. Our athletes are usually overtrained. They burn out when they are young. I tried to keep her away from this whole thing. She was kind of tired by the time she was Under-20. Then only she started actually doing well. She came third in the All Island meet. She could have done really well. She is very talented,” said Ineka, whose peers were Jayamini Illeperuma, Susanthika Jayasinghe and Damayanthi Darsha heralding the golden era of Sri Lanka athletics.

“All of us started late. We started when we were about 15 years old. We continued and started performing after we were 17 or 18,” she said.

She didn’t personally train her younger daughter too much.

“I didn’t realise and didn’t know what to do because there were so many meets. There is a time period they can perform. If you start early and peak them too early, they burn out too early. You should wait till the athlete is fully grown in height and growth before you peak them. Also you have to be very careful handling an athlete to make sure they don’t get burnt out,” said Ineka, who did everything right after her talents were discovered by a school PTI (Physical Training Instructor).

“Until I was 15, I didn’t know I could run. It happened without any particular planning. There was a PTI called Ms. Champa Gunawardena who got all of us to run and I beat the whole school that day. She chose me and trained me. I bought spikes. From the day I started, I did everything right. She gave me good training,” recalled Ineka, who won the All Island meet in the 100m and 200m in her first year.

Having swept all before her in school meets, she was selected to the national team when she was just 16 being a member of the silver medal winning 4x100m Sri Lanka relay team in the 1989 SAF Games in Islamabad, Pakistan. She clocked a career personal best of 11.7 seconds to break the Sri Lanka record and become national champion at 19. She won a silver medal in the 100m and 4x100m relay gold at the 1991 SAF Games and was among the top eight in the 100m at the Asian Athletic Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before going to the USA to study Business Management in 1992 getting a full scholarship from the University of Texas.

She achieved the distinction of finishing third in the Western Conference Championship on a couple of occasions in the 55m and 100m dash and was a member of the 4x100m relay team which won first place at the Western Athletic Conference USA. Although she produced good timings while studying in the US and wanted to represent Sri Lanka, she was not an automatic choice.

“During our time, even if you broke the Sri Lanka record it was not recognised. Whatever I did in US was not recognised in Sri Lanka. Now Ushan (Thiwanka Perera) broke the Sri Lanka record while competing in the USA. Our records were not recognised at that time,” said Ineka, who had to run a ‘trial’ in Sri Lanka and endure a bitter experience after being selected for the 1993 SAF Games in Bangladesh.

“I was selected as number two. Darsha had a better time than me in the local trials. The second best was mine but I didn’t run the trial. I sent my timing from there (USA). They selected me for the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. I came to Sri Lanka in the middle of the semester which is like not during my holidays. When I landed in Sri Lanka, they said I can’t run because the girl who came second in the trials was protesting saying people can’t come from another country and take that place. They told me to run another trial in Sri Lanka. They got time keepers just for me and put some other boys. Again I got a better time obviously because I was running very well at that time,” she said.

But even after going to Bangladesh, the protests continued and she conceded her place in disgust.

Siyana Wickremesinghe

“I actually gave up because I am not a person who would fight over things like that. It’s very unpleasant being a sportsperson. I just ran the relay. I wasted about two to three weeks. When I went back, I got injured because of all the travelling, stress, etc. My coach warned ‘you can’t do that in the middle of semester’. I was on a full scholarship and was under obligation to them. I kind of got disappointed also with the system in Sri Lanka,” said Ineka.

“That’s why I say now the children have a better chance to train in another country and their performances will be recognised in Sri Lanka. But the only thing is when you go there today for studies, it is a little difficult to come to Sri Lanka all the time because you are in university, have to study for exams and its two different seasons when they have competitions,” said Ineka, who didn’t believe her children would take up athletics.

“I never thought my daughters would do athletics. Usually you don’t find children of athletes doing athletics, especially track, unlike in other sports. You can say (Roshan) Mahanama or (Sanath) Jayasuriya’s son will be a good cricketer. Singers know their son or daughter is going to be a singer. In athletics and a lot of sports, it’s very difficult to say that because the children don’t perform. But suddenly my daughters started breaking records in school and then only we realised they are talented,” she recalled.

“But I didn’t want to push them. I wanted them to find it as a passion and continue. The younger one seems to be interested and she has the height being 5’ 7½’. I hope she will continue. She also came third in the All Island meet. I told her when she goes to US, if she’s still interested to continue,” she said.

Ineka lauded the programme in American universities where education and sports go hand in hand.

“There was no way I could do athletics and not do my studies. In Sri Lanka my daughters are facing that issue because when you are good in your studies, it’s very difficult to continue your athletics with exams, school and classes. In America they have designed the university system in a way you can do both. That is the beauty of it. Any athlete in the USA can be educated by the time they get out of athletics or any sport. They are already qualified. But in Sri Lanka I find it is difficult for children to go to university. Most of the athletes are not continuing their studies because of that,” she said.

Ineka was fortunate to get a full scholarship, enjoying the privilege of doing sports and studies in an American university.

“All the sports people are given first priority. We can register for classes before any of them. So we get the classes which don’t clash with the training which is given the priority. Let’s say you are having trouble with your studies, there is another support system where after training you can get help for studies. Also if you are given a scholarship, for you to compete, you have to have good grades. You can’t do bad in your studies and good in your sports or vice versa. Children have to learn to balance both. Those things are really good things I got other than athletics. You have to be well disciplined,” said Ineka, who is doing her bit to promote athletes in Sri Lanka now.


  •  Participated in South Asian Games held in Islamabad, Pakistan at the age of 17
  •  4x100m relay – silver medal
  •  Participated in Asian Championships held in New Delhi, India


  • Won 1st place in 100m, 200m All Island National School Games and Public School Meets for 4 consecutive years from 1987 to 1991 setting new meet records


  •  Sri Lanka record holder 100m
  •  Established a new Sri Lanka record in the 100m with a timing of 11.7 seconds at 19 years of age becoming the 1st Sri Lankan female athlete to run under 12 seconds.
  •  Was awarded the Best Performance Overall at National Sports Festival 1991

1991: South Asian Games

  •  Participant at the Games held in Colombo at the age of 19 years
  •  100m – silver medal
  •  Member of the 4x100m relay which won the gold medal
  •  Participated in Asian Championships held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


  •  Represented the University of Texas in the US Nationals
  •  Received a full scholarship to the University of Texas, United States of America for further education
  •  Member of the track team of the university
  •  Won third place in the US Western Athletic Conference in 55m and 100m events
  •  Member of the 4x100m relay which won 1st place at the Western Athletic Conference USA
  •  Qualified for US Nationals to represent the University in the 4x100m relay

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.