Cinderella girl Seneca now making giant strides | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Cinderella girl Seneca now making giant strides

29 January, 2023
Seneca Gunaratne sprints at one of her many appearances

There is a very thin line between success and failure as an athlete especially if you are a sprinter. It is a race against time with the difference between the champion and those who also ran being a mere millisecond. On the other hand, some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth while others come to the limelight through hard work and determination.

Just like reigning Sri Lanka sprint queen Amasha de Silva, another talented athlete from Colombo International School in Kandy, Seneca Guneratne, would have been languishing in the shadows if coach Sanjeewa Weerakkody had not switched their event from 400 metres to the shorter sprint events.

Amasha is a three-time national champion currently undergoing a training programme in Trinidad & Tobago. Seneca who was adjudged Best Athlete in the 2019 Sir John Tarbat Junior Athletic Championship and 2020 International Schools Athletic Championship (ISAC), lived up to her billing being crowned 100 metres champion at the All Island School Games Athletic Championship last month.

“When she came to me in 2021 her time in the 100 was 12.8. Like most sprinters, her start was weak because she lacked upper body strength. I developed her technique off the blocks,” said Weerakkody who is confident she has the ability to represent Sri Lanka this year.

Seneca clocked a winning time of 12.78 seconds at the Sir John Tarbat Senior Athletic Championship followed by 12.38 at the All Island Games.

“To clip nearly half a second off her time is a very good achievement. She missed the Games records by milliseconds,” said Weerakkody who is pleased with her progress and preparing her for Asian junior international competitions this year.

“I am confident she can run under 12 seconds during selection trials. The target is to run 11.8 or 11.9 at the trials,” he said, working on improving her low haemoglobin level and nasal problem.

Seneca for her part is pretty cool about her achievement and ambitions about her exploits on the track, focusing her attention on beginning a new chapter in her life after being selected to the New York University.

“It has been my dream and goal to become an engineer,” she said, even taking a break from athletics to complete her studies. Striking a fine balance between education and sports has paid rich dividends for Seneca who could afford a gap year before entering university which allowed her to burn the track.

“The timing I got was better than expected,” said Seneca, pleasantly surprised by the improvement she is making. She was adorned with Central Province and Sri Lanka Schools Athletic Association colours for her feats.

Despite her academic and sporting achievements, Seneca has her head above her shoulders and feet planted on the ground without complaining about the limited facilities available in Kandy for training before moving to the United States in September. Her training is on the grass track at the Bogambara Stadium in Kandy which is not ideal for sprinters in particular. “Running on grass is harder than on carpet (synthetic track). When going for meets in Colombo, it is really easy for us and the timing improves a lot,” she said, converting adversity as an advantage.

“My aim is to represent Sri Lanka at international meets. Even going to the Olympics is possible by working hard,” she said two years ago after being selected by the National Olympic Committee for the NOCSL-Crysbro ‘Next Champ’ programme. Although she is more concerned about her academic career, coach Weerakkody feels she could represent Sri Lanka even when she is studying in the United States.

“She can participate in the Asian Junior Athletic Championship in South Korea which was last held in 2020 and the 2024 event. I can speak to the university coach and with technology available there, her timing will definitely improve,” said Weerakkody who has not given up on her shining on the international stage encouraged by her steady progress and the massive strides she is making.

Seneca was always a cut above the rest in her age group, gaining a double promotion in Grade IV when her family relocated from Colombo to Kandy. After trying her hand in swimming, she was attracted to athletics displaying natural talent. It was in her genes since she came from an athletic lineage with her father’s brother Sampath Guneratne having represented Sri Lanka at the Junior Asian Games. Even her elder sister Heshani followed her into athletics before joining Michigan University to study Law. Seneca showed leadership skills emulating her mother Jehani who was House Captain at Lindsay Girls School, to become Head Girl at CIS before completing her school career early with flying colours.

“My parents have been my greatest source of inspiration throughout my career,” said Seneca who will be turning 18 in April. Her father Janeshra is an entrepreneur while her mother Jehani has been a teacher of speech and drama but has devoted her attention to bringing up her talented kids.