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DateLine Sunday, 6 July 2008

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Woman soldier’s Olympic dream

The pride of defending the motherland as a woman soldier and bringing global recognition by receiving an opportunity to represent Sri Lanka at the Olympics -Nadeeka Lakmali is the first Sri Lankan woman who was shortlisted to take part at the Beijing Games in the field events.

Lakmali is a product of Kahaduwa MV, Elpitiya, who excelled in sports more than in studies. She had exhibited a keen interest for the javelin throw since her small age and her talents were sharpened by the school coach Manjula Mohotti which helped her to win the under fifteen Javelin Championship at the Junior National Meet held in Galle in 1995.

The second opportunity to show her talents was the National Sports Festival in 1999. “Having been impressed by my talents Brig. Palitha Fernando - president of the Athletics Association extended an invitation to join the Army.

I, with one accord accepted that invitation because I had finished my schooling by that time,” she elaborates. Thus she joined the Army in 2000 and it has been a turning point in her career.

She established a new national record for the event with 58.44m at the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Athletic Meet held at the Sugathadasa Stadium last year. Lakmali broke the national record of 56.20 m held by Anne Maheshi de Silva of Sri Lanka Navy.

“It was a great achievement to break the national record. Anne personally called me up and wished me. She is now living in the UK and her words are very encouraging.”

After establishing a national record, Lance Corporal of 2nd battalion Sri Lanka Army women’s corps added history to Sri Lanka Army sports sphere.

She has displayed her talents nationally as well as internationally in her pet event in 2003 at the SAARC Games in Pakistan, 2005 - Asian Games in Korea. 2006 - SARC Games in Colombo.

She also bagged the bronze medal at the Asian Championship in Jordan last year. She took part in SAARC Games in Cochin, India this year and won a gold medal. She secured two gold medals at the Open Championship in Thailand and Taipei. International exposure has been a great boost in enhancing moral standards and the amount of experience.

At present she is being trained by coaches B.M.G. Bandara - her first coach in Colombo, A.J. Rajaguru and Major General Palitha Fernando who she says are not hesitant to go out of their way to provide all assistance to her. She is currently practising at Pannipitiya Dharmapala grounds four days a week and at the Sugathadasa Stadium on Thursdays.

“I’m staying at my elder sister’s place at Meepe, Padukka and from there I have easy access to Pannipitiya Dharmapala College grounds for my daily practices. I usually get up at 4.30 a.m. and get ready to go for practice. Usually I am at the Dharmapala College grounds by 7 a.m. I practise for 3 hours and stop at 10 a.m. for a break and again go on till 1.30 - 2.00 p.m.”

She is a friendly athlete who is always wearing a hearty smile. She was a bit disheartened these days due to some unfavourable remarks made by certain media.

“I’m really disappointed of those irresponsible statements on my performance conveyed to the public by some privately owned Sinhala national newspaper and a Sinhala radio channel. They have criticised my performance by neither watching me performing nor inquiring from my coach.

I had to achieve Olympic qualifying standards to represent the country at the Olympics. How unjust is that? If they know the subject they would not have done such a dishonourable thing. This kind of thing happen when people who do not know a particular subject try to show that they know everything.

I was really demoralised when my friends told me that my performance is criticised in paper and on radio. I don’t understand why they do it. I don’t know whether they are jealous of me. This is not what they should do as media men. They should not demoralise us like this. Instead, they should encourage us.Getting an opportunity to take part at the Olympics is not a simple thing.

As countrymen they should be proud of that. I stand a chance to bring honour to Sri Lanka at the Olympics as the first Sri Lankan in the field events. Due to that incident I was fed up of media and didn’t want to talk to anyone.All media organisations are not like that.

There’re some who really encourage us to bring global recognition to the country. If someone receives a medal at the Olympics, it doesn’t belong to the particular sportsperson alone. It belongs to everyone in the country.”

However she has been advised by her coaches not to make any serious comments and to be calm to continue her practices as usual.

Since she is very busy with practices for Olympics, she scarcely has a time to go to Wekadahena, Elpitiya to pay her family a visit. Her parents, elder brother and the younger brother are living there.

Her elder sister is married and living in Padukka. Both her brothers are employed in Elpitiya. Her father is a farmer who is engaged in Chena cultivations.She is the only one in her family who’s involved in sports .

“ Though my brothers won medals at school they never excelled in sports or went up to national level. Even among my relatives, there’s no one who’s doing sports.”

Army extends a great assistance to her. She’s been granted duty leave and is helping her in many ways. Army has been able to fulfil one of her long felt need - a pair of spikes she uses now. She receives a monthly allowance from the Ministry of Sports for her expenses.

She is a bit disappointed that officials had promised to send her to Cuba for further training and they have forgotten it altogether. She believes that if she receives training under an international coach, her dream of winning a gold medal at Olympics will not be a mere dream.

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