When a coach saw the medals in the making | Sunday Observer

When a coach saw the medals in the making

26 September, 2021
Coach Pradeep Nishantha (centre) with Paralympic Bronze medal winner Samitha Dulan (left) and Gold medalist Dinesh Herath
Coach Pradeep Nishantha (centre) with Paralympic Bronze medal winner Samitha Dulan (left) and Gold medalist Dinesh Herath

Every successful athlete has a good coach who is also a motivator. He may not be able to do everything for the athletes but his guidance is always very helpful to build up an athlete’s career.

When the athlete wins the highest medal at a major international event, he or she is always highlighted but the silent backstage man who is the coach often goes un-noticed. Most of the coaches have not being of the top shelf during their sporting days, but their coaching methods give the much needed expertise to the athletes.

The 47-year old experienced athletic coach Pradeep Nishantha is a cut above the rest. As a javelin thrower he won the 2003 Asian Grand Prix silver medal in Colombo with a distance of 74.2m which was the National record at that time.

Four days later he also won the bronze medal at the same Grand Prix series in Bangkok. However in the following year 2004 he decided to retire from this event with a finger injury and became a coach especially focusing on throwing events like Javelin, Discuss and Shot Put.

Today he also works as a professional coach attached to Gateway International School, Rajagiriya. A product of Horethuduwa Chandraseka MV, Nishantha started his journey as a school javelin thrower to National level and his pursuits as a coach has produced Paralympics Gold medal winner Dinesh Herath and bronze winner Samitha Dulan as well as Olympian athlete Sumedha Ranasinghe.

“When I was in peak form I had to retire from the Javelin throw with a finger injury but today I am really happy to have produced two Paralympic medal winners in Dinesh Priyantha Herath F-46 gold medal with a world record and Samitha Dulan the bronze medal winner in the F-44-64 category.

“Not only that, the 2016 Rio Olympian Sumedha Ranasinghe is also training under my guidance with several Javelin throwers both able-bodied and differently able,” said Nishantha.

Sampath Hettiarachchi who finished ninth in the Javelin throw F-44 and Palitha Bandara Shot Put who finished fifth also trains under Pradeep Nishantha.

“In my coaching life I had the opportunity to see the highest achievements on the same day last August 30 when Herath and Dulan won Paralympic medals in Tokyo. Herath was special, the first ever gold winner with a world record and what a jubilant moment in my life. I have no words to say at this moment but it was a very emotional moment in my life. The first time we heard our National anthem at the Paralympics, not even at the Olympics and also the first time a Sri Lankan athlete created a world record at the Paralympics or the Olympics.

“I think we have a tough ask to protect these athletes with their skills to go for the next World Games as well and the Para Asian Games in 2022. That’s also a new challenge as a coach to improve their skill levels for the next International medal.

“Dinesh Herath is the key athlete of the team and he and I were confident of the Gold medal before this Tokyo Games. His dedication was very high and even during the Covid 19 lockdown period we never broke our training and that was the success behind our athletes.

“I met Herath the first time in 2017 after the Rio Paralympics where he won a bronze medal. He was under the guidance of coaches Preethi Kumara and Rohitha Fernando. I had to continue the training taking over from them and it was easy for me. However as a ‘disable’ athlete we have to focus more and get a good knowledge about them and according to their strengths we have to adjust.

“After Herath won the last World Para meet silver medal we had to focus more on the Paralympics. We knew we had to compete against Indian thrower Devendra Jhajahria the previous world record holder of this event once again at this Paralympics. We made a good plan to build up more skills. Finally Herath finished with 67.79m to set up a new world record with a historic gold medal and Indian Devendra had to be satisfied with a silver”, said Nishantha.

He revealed Samitha Dulan’s story was different from Herath’s rise.

“He (Dulan) had to compete in the F44-64 category, was attached to the Army to continue his sports and was lucky to set up a new record at the Amy athletic meet in the Javelin throw as an able-bodied athlete.

“However unfortunately he met with a motorbike accident and was out for two years being in the army hospital.

“His mentality went down and first of all I had to get back his mental state with encouragement to do sport. As a Para athlete Dulan once again came into the Javelin throw and his previous experience paved the way to go forward with my support.

“He also had good commitment and after taking fourth place at the world Para meet in 2019 he was really encouraged to win his first medal at this Paralympics and I am very happy he also finished with a bronze and more importantly he recorded his best achievement of 65.61m and managed to improve his personal best three times during his event”, said Nishantha.

Waruna Lakshan, Sajith Maduranga and Sumedha Ranasinghe the three able-bodied athletes also set up Javelin records under the guidance of Pradeep Nishantha and presently Ranasinghe is the National record holder with 83.04m.