Sri Lankan bolt Abeykoon keeps raising the bar, eyes Tokyo | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan bolt Abeykoon keeps raising the bar, eyes Tokyo

13 September, 2020

Sri Lanka’s new sprint sensation Yupun Abeykoon targets to achieve Olympic qualifying standards in the coming year so he could represent his country at the 2021 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo.

The 25-year old Italy-based Sri Lankan short distance runner surprised his countrymen when he had a dream run in Germany last week. Running in Anhalt 2020 European Championship, the Sri Lankan soldier returned a record timing of 10.16 seconds to win the men’s 100m event.

He thus erased the previous South Asian mark of 10.22 seconds and also the Sri Lanka record of 10.26 held by Himasha Eashan at the 12th South Asian Games in India in 2016.

That accounted for a new Sri Lanka and South Asian record, giving fresh hopes for athletic fans. His elusive run was good enough to beat the hot favourite and German national champion Deniz Almas who clocked 10.18 seconds. The third place was won by Michael Pohl of Germany in 10.41.

In an exclusive telephone interview from Rome yesterday, Abeykoon said he is prepared to bridge the 0.11 second gap and gain a timing of 10.05 seconds which would give him automatic qualification for the men’s 100m at the 2021 Olympics.

“I have cut down nearly 0.4 seconds in an year or so. Hence, I don’t see a big difficulty in aiming for that goal,” he said.

He said his head coach Licciardello, under whom he has been training for the past one year, was confident of doing a 10.15 this season. Asked whether he ever thought of becoming South Asia’s fastest man, Abeykoon said his coach always thought that he could go for that target.

“But I didn’t expect that to come here. Nevertheless, my coach has always put his bets on me - that I would improve up to 10.15 under,” he said.

Even then, Abeykoon had not gone past 10.3 until last week’s race. “Prior to last week’s race, my personal best in the 100m was a 10.31 seconds recorded in Sri Lanka. In Italy, I only had done a 10.32 as my personnel best. So I am extremely happy with what I have achieved,” he said.

But he is an open athlete who welcomes competition. “I don’t want this record to stand with me until I die. I broke my fellow countryman’s record as well as the South Asian record. I would like to see this record being replaced more often. That will create completion that will help us to improve,” he said.

“My immediate goals are to compete in at least three or four top grade meets in Europe so that I could get more opportunities to improve from the level that I have gained. Then in the early part of next season or even before that, I will go for my dream of achieving the Olympic qualifying mark of 10.05,” he said.

Abeykoon, who has been living in Italy since he was five years old, was a member of the gold medal winning Sri Lanka’s men’s 4x100m relay team with a national record at the last South Asian Games. But he did not qualify for the 100m individual event.

“When I broke the South Asian record, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Namal Rajapaksa rang me to congratulate. He asked me about the facilities I need for better training. I will inform the Minister through Sri Lanka Athletics. He also paid a big tribute to Sri Lanka Athletics, especially its President Major General (Rtd) Palitha Fernando.

He thanked the Army for recruiting him in 2014. “I must thank Army Commander Lt. General Shavendra Silva who has given me all the support and encouragement. Special thanks to my regiment SLEME and all at the Army,” he said.

Prior to his South Asian Games 100m relay gold, he won a bronze medal at the World Military Games held in Mungyeong, South Korea in 2015.

Abeykoon Mudiyanselage Yupun Priyadarshana Abeykoon was born in Negombo on December 31, 1994 and had his early education in Pannala. He also paid a tribute to his schools – Pannala National School and Joseph Vaz College, Wennappuwa for early support in his career.

It is said that his timing was the third best by an Asian, following the identical timing of 9.91 seconds by Su Bingtian (China) and Femi Ogunodo (Qatar) on two occasions each but three of them outside Asia.