A mistimed jump trying to cross the steeplechase hurdle hurts when you fall flat on the face in the track. What makes matters worse is that, tripping and tumbling before the cameras and all watching from all over, taking that embarrassment in your stride and completing the race. But how about the – hurt – [...]


A shortfall ‘more’ hurtful than a steeplechase fall


A mistimed jump trying to cross the steeplechase hurdle hurts when you fall flat on the face in the track. What makes matters worse is that, tripping and tumbling before the cameras and all watching from all over, taking that embarrassment in your stride and completing the race.

Nilani in action at SAG 2019 in Kathmandu

But how about the – hurt – of being all set to make the cut for the Olympics, only for it to be ‘so close; yet so far’? Steeplechase runner Nilani Ratnayaka ruthlessly and brutally became a victim of that in two separate occasions.

Last June 25-29, the Sri Lankan contingency had set off to India to participate at the Indian Inter-State Championship, in Punjab. What they never saw coming was that they were about to be taken on a ride, taking part at a meet, a ‘no points’ meet.

The Sunday Times through investigations uncovered that the Lankans had been under the misleading impression by the Indians, that this was a bronze level plus an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) accredited meet.

However, the twist had been when it was only a normal meet. Hence, the victim Ratnayaka has lost the make-or-break points as those would have helped her to earn a wild card entry to the Tokyo 2020 games, ending today (8).

Authoritative sources said there is a certain number of points an athlete wins, when placed in the top three. In addition to that, an athlete bags an additional 60 points for taking part in a bronze level meet. Only for this to be nothing under that basis.

Innocent Ratnayake too, echoing on the purposeless meet complained, “We didn’t get any points at the Indian meet. We ourselves (the team) remained unaware that we don’t have a provision for points. I was drained out at the Indian meet too (due to exhaustion at a local meet). Indians did enjoy 100 points though we did not. We were supposed to be sent for meets with points, unlike the Indian event”.

Her timing of 10:12:02 was also not in favour of running beyond the qualifying time of 9:30.

Double damage 

Adding insult to injury, a costly misfortune had already struck her a few months before on April 9, when the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka made a muck and a mess blundering the – Olympics qualifying – 3000m steeplechase event.

A flaw and a failure from the organisers denied a potential ticket to take wings to Tokyo, her first-ever Olympics.

The Sugathadasa Stadium saga saw the nasty negligence of an official from the Kurunegala Education Ministry setting the height inadvertently at two-feet-six-inches, as opposed to the correct height of two-feet-three.

The culprit according to Ratnayaka’s coach, Sajith Jayalal, is a – Neville Rodrigo – from the above education division.

“He was oblivious of the open height standards. He had set the height mistakenly under the category of Junior Men’s Height. There is apparently a big team behind this,” Jayalal exposed him.

Ratnayaka, coincidentally 31 today, clocked 9 minutes and 57.81 seconds, when the direct qualifying standard was 9:30.

Had she had run a bit better, she would have scraped through the world’s 45th, a Hungarian. Nevertheless, her coach is cursing the recklessness of officials in his student missing out by a whisker. On top of all these double troubles, she had entered the contest minus two weeks of training due to a leg injury. She is without a manager nor anyone to find competitions to make a case.

Nilani Ratnayake

“Had I a manager or someone with an eye for events, I also would have come forward. We did not get platforms to showcase ourselves and our points took a hit. Based on an Asian Championship as well as the Lankan meet only, I was sitting in 34. Had I run in points based competitions and below 9:30, today I would’ve been in Tokyo. I basically did not get any chances at competitions. At the nationals, the hurdles were all elevated and I ran while carrying an injury,” Ratnayaka reflected and regretted.

When questioned as to whether she spoke with the organisers, she had done so and a re-run was offered. However, due to the injury she could not seize that opportunity. By word of mouth they had notified her coach on the re-run, but the injury had the final say.

“Coach had lodged a complaint. A re-run was offered as the remedy,” said the country’s leading steeplechaser, specialising in that.

“During running the race itself, I had found that all hurdles were above the standard of 76.2cm,” Ratnayaka, a servant in the army, remembered when it all occurred.

Speaking of the big blow personally and for the country, she unsurprisingly has not revived nor resumed training due to the pain of falling short. Her mind still is working over that. That had been her target for a year she was working and all of a sudden missing out narrowly.

“No one helped and I was left high and dry. It is unbearable pain,” an occasional runner in 1500m and 5000m, mourned.

In the aftermath now, with the postponed Olympics drawing to a close today, she naturally has not followed her events category, track and field, much. Though she watched the famous than usual gymnastics et al with interest, entirely owing to the big pain, she was forced to give it a skip for her event.

Inadequate points awarding competitions has also hit the Lankan record holder, set in 2018 for the second time.

“The one and only points awarding competition in the country is the nationals. Only from that I got 60 under my belt. From the nationals only from 34, there was a wee bit improvement of two places. Since there was a drought of competitions and neither did I have the means to earn points, I slipped down to 12 places,” she said of the structure and system.

After this slip, partly due to the athletics body’s negligence in duty, she still has not opened up with anyone. However, her employer, the Army, has stood with her in good stead during the ups and downs. It has been them dishing out solutions whenever necessary.

“I could not plan nor think of anything ahead. I’m still heartbroken. I don’t like dwelling about this with anyone that much either,” she added.  But the silver line in the grey cloud is that she has recovered from her injury. Her plight has prompted her in calling for athletes to have managers. Thus, the athletes are tapped with opportunities through the latter.

On top of enough benefits, she also suffered a loss of Rs. 2.9 million, an amount that would have resuscitated her poor family come back on track. She also missed out on the name and fame of ‘Olympian’.

In Ratnayaka’s case, there is one way in resting the case- Man proposes; God disposes. Man proposes- her proposal to the Olympics. God disposes- ruined and disposed of by the abysmal mistake by the


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