Nimali Liyanarachchi, on Sunday won Sri Lanka its first Asian medal in the women’s 800 metres, in twenty two years, at the Asian Athletics Championship in Wuhan, China.
Sports1st visited her home in Sooriyawewa, Hambantota which is a remote village located about eight miles from Sooriyawewa in Hambantota.
The merciless sun which parches the earth and the numerous hardships that accompany life there, provided Nimali with the fuel that propelled her onto the international stage.
Nimali learned her letters at the Wewegama Junior School, which does not even have a proper sports ground; but it was here that Coach Sujith Abeysekera, identified her talent, and encouraged her enthusiasm for sports.
The youngest in a family including two brothers and a sister, Nimali lost her father at a very young age. Nimali’s mother stated that it was her brothers that worked in the fields, as they mostly worked as hired labourers and said that is how she came forward. She used to run in the annual inter house meets every year. It was Sujith Sir that spoke to the Principal of the School and encouraged her in sports.
Nimali, who appeared on the national sporting stage with exception performances in the 800 metres and 1500 metres, went on to show great promise in the 3000 metres steeplechase and the 5000-metre events.
Nimali’s school principal stated that in truth, their school does not have a proper sports field to bring forth an athlete of her calibre. At present, the children play in a jungle area.
At one time, Nimali was forced to reconsider her future in sports, due to economic hardships and the lack of benefits for sportspersons.
However, upon receiving the opportunity to serve in the Sri Lanka Air Force, Nimali returned to the track in the 400 metres hurdles and 800 metres events.
Yesterday, Nimali lost out on the opportunity to break the national women’s 800 metres record, set by Sriyani Dhammika Menike, twenty three years ago, by a single second.
Asian 800m Bronze Medalist Nimali Liyanarachchi stated that she missed the Sri Lanka record by one point whereas the record is two minutes 38.5 seconds.
She went on to note that she ran in two minutes 39.4 seconds. She was not thinking of the timing. But praying for a medal.
She added that isboth the responsibility and duty of the country’s sports authorities, to ensure that their athletes who rise from much hardship to bring glory to the nation, are duly rewarded and encouraged to achieve greater international victories.