An Olympic games medal aspirant | Sunday Observer
Nethmi Ahinsa Poruthotage,

An Olympic games medal aspirant

14 August, 2022

Most of the time, history is created by young people. On August 5, an 18 year-old Sri Lankan female wrestler earned her place in the history books when she won the bronze medal in the women’s 57kg freestyle wrestling event at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham.

She is Nethmi Ahinsa Fernando Poruthotage from Welapalla, Kurunegala. With her win, she became Sri Lanka’s first ever medalist in the sport of wrestling and the youngest ever Sri Lankan medalist at the Commonwealth Games (CWG).

Fearless performance

Earlier that day (Aug. 5), she was defeated by India’s Anshu Malik in the semi-final stage via technical superiority (without any point scored by the opponent) - Malik is a medalist in the World Wrestling Championship in Norway in 2021. But in the bronze medal match, the 18-year-old successfully secured victory over Australia’s 30-year-old, experienced Irene Symeonidis by technical superiority. There she showed no fear on the big stage, easily dominating the opponent from the start scoring 10 straight technically correct points in 1 minute and 51 seconds with minimum fuss.

Nethmi is from Welpalla Sangarathana Masha Vidyalaya in Giriulla, Kurunegala. Her story is, in fact, a glowing example of how far athletes can go if they have proper backing. She is from a poor family with three siblings – she is the second child. Her father is a mason by profession while mother is a housewife. Though wrestling is a game consisting of players with great energy, Nethmi’s family couldn’t afford to give her proper nutritious food. Her house is also a half-built one.

However, thanks to being a member of the Crysbro Next Champ Program (CNCP) over the past eleven months, she has received a special sponsorship to maintain a healthy body and a good training - the CNCP is conducted in collaboration with the National Olympic Committee to empower the next generation of young athletes to be the next big Olympic hopes for the nation. The United World Wrestling and the Hungary Wrestling Federation, alongside Crysbro, initiated and funded the “Next Champ” initiative.

Nethmi’s coach is the backbone of her win. He is T. Suranga Kumara, an accepted wrestling coach and a resident of Kurunegala. She first started training under his guidance in 2019, and since then she has been honing her skills and has won many victories.

Other achievements

The first international achievement of her was reaching the 7th place of the women’s 57 Kg freestyle wrestling at the 2021 World Junior Championship in Russia where she went the distance against Italian and Kyrgyzstan opponents. Because of this feat and her local victories, she was offered to follow a two-month special training course in Hungary by the National Olympic Committee. There she got exposure to top-level international athletes and competitions. So it was after that training she joined the Commonwealth Games’ wrestling event – the first event she participated in CG was 16-player-round where she comprehensively beat the Cameron player.

The name Nethmi Ahinsa Poruthotage first came into notice in Sri Lanka when she brought her district (Kurunegala) to the first place in the Inter-district Wrestling tournament in 2018 and 2019. Then, she brought her province (North Central Province) first place in the Inter-provincial Wrestling tournament in 2018 and 2019. She won the gold medal in women’s 57 Kg freestyle wrestling event at the National Sports Festival in 2019 becoming the best player of the festival as well. The same year at the National Wrestling Championship she became its champion. All these achivements were taken into consideration when she was offered an above mentioned sports scholarship and a special training in Hungaria by National Olympic Committee.

Her thoughts

What are her thoughts after winning the bronze medal in Birmingham? How could she defeat her Australian opponent? Daily News quoted her as saying:

“My coach Suranga Kumara told me to fight like how the Indian (Anshu Malik) fought against me in the semifinal.”

“I don’t know what happened against the Indian wrestler. Perhaps she was more experienced than me. All that I did in training came to my mind in the semifinals. I was determined not to let a medal that was within my grasp slip away. I was determined to win for my country.”

“I was always confident of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games. I wanted to win the gold medal but after losing to the Indian, I was even more determined to win for my country. I remembered the years of rope training even with blisters in my hand and mentally prepared myself for the medal match. My Australian opponent was strong but I thought she also has two hands and legs like me, so why should I get scared? I have got the best coach in the world. I can’t let him down,” she said.

Determined contender

She also commented on her future ambitions. Following is quoted from a local news website:

“I couldn’t win the gold but I am determined to get an Olympic medal in future. If I am to win an Olympic medal I have to correct my mistakes as well as train hard to reach my target. Actually if I am to go to the Olympics I have to take part in International rankings tournaments to improve my world rankings. My coach Suranga Kumara gave me good support to come to this level and I am looking forward to doing well under his guidance.”

While thanking the National Olympic Committee, Sports Ministry and Wrestling Federation, Nethmi also elaborated how she started her wrestling sport in adverse conditions. She came to the wrestling field because of her friend Chamodya Madumali Vithanage who was already a wrestler – later she competed in the Women’s Freestyle 53 Kg – Nordic at the Games. Chamodya first introduced Nethmi to coach Suranga Kumara, and then, the coach took permission of her parents to do wrestling.

“I was a little bit fat at the time, weighing 68 kgs. My father wanted me to be a healthy person, so he agreed that I play wrestling,” she said of her father.

After entering the wrestling field it was just fit for her:

“I won gold medals after just two months of training. My coach took me to competitions around the country to show me how to fight. Since then I have not given any point in a six-minute match to any opponent,” she said proudly.

Trained even on sawdust

What are the hardships she faced during the training? Below are some of them according to Nethmi:

“When we were training we did not have a proper mattress for it. We even trained on a mound of sawdust. Then, we received a mattress from the Judo Federation. Yet, we did not have a place to set it up. So it was placed in the preaching hall of our village temple. But when it was raining, we had to unfold the mattress and wait until the rain stops. Next, our mattress was set up at the place of my coach, but with time and rain, the water got in and rusted the tin sheets of the roof. But we did not give up, we continuously wiped the mattress and started playing. We trained like this for the past four years.”

She also described how she continued her school lessons amidst the wrestling training:

“If I fail in examinations, the blame is put on my wrestling training and coach. So, along with my training, I tried my best to focus on studies. Generally, when my coach came from his camp to train us, it was about 7 pm. We then continued training until 11 pm. So when I go to bed it is 12 midnight on most days. When nearing the school examinations, I wake up at 2.30 am and study. As a result, I came second or third in term examinations.”

She also spoke of her parents’ dedication to reach in her sport:

“We had a lot of difficulties but my parents provided me all the facilities. Especially they gave all nutritious food but that was not luxury with jak fruit, manioc, and other nutritional foods.”

Coach’s views

Nethmi’s coach Suranga Kumara has also something to tell. Though following comments were made by him before the Commonwealth Games, they reveal what type of hardships they had to undergo in terms of foods:

“A proper meal with energy and nutrition is essential for wrestlers, but most wrestlers never had such meals which is a major obstacle to youngsters who are mostly from poor economic backgrounds. Some days, I myself cooked jak fruit and gave them away to the children. If we have a good meal with potatoes, sweet potatoes and manioc we can manage our need for nutritions. But, unfortunately, these children did not receive this meal as well.”

Offers after Commonwealth medal

However, after her great achievement at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Nethmi was offered many opportunities to continue her sport further without worrying about other factors. One offer is to give her a monthly allowance of Rs. 50,000 for her sports activities and nutritional needs. This was offered by Derana Group Chairman, Dilith Jayaweera who has already promised to give her a new house in Kurunegala through the ‘Manusath Derana’ programme. According to the Daily News, Jayaweera is also keen to look after Nethmi’s coach Suranga Kumara who gave fine support with limited facilities.

“We are discussing to make arrangements for the coach to fulfill his coaching qualifications, and this type of athletes and coaches have to be supported to get more results in future,” said Jayaweera.

Meanwhile, the Sports Ministry Secretary Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva told the media that they have discussed with Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe to felicitate Commonwealth Games medal winners at the end of this week and to give cash awards. As per them, the Sports Ministry will continue to support the medal winners.

These are invariably great incentives not only for our present sportstars but also future upcoming sports persons. If things went on like this, it is not far away from us to pluck the golden flowers of world sports arena.