The Sri Lanka record in the women’s pole vault is nowhere close to international standards. Yet, by breaking it with a mere 3.31 metres leap, Eastern Province athlete Anoma Karunawansa could lay hands on the grand prize (a car), on offer at the 39th National Sports Festival, at the Jayathilaka Stadium, Nawalapitiya, on Sunday, as the authorities continued with the controversial criteria for the grand award, despite pre-event criticisms.
The sailor, who only shifted to the pole vault from the long jump some two years ago, improved on her own national mark by just one centimetre with a clean first jump, to harbour hopes of the grand prize on offer. She faulted when the bar was raised to 3.34 metres.
According to our analysis of all results of individual events on Sunday (going by the IAAF points awarding method), the 3.31 metres performance in the women’s pole vault was the lowest ranked achievement of the day.
Men’s javelin thrower Sampath Rathnasinghe’s gold medal winning performance of 69.92 metres (945 points), in the absence of National record holder Sachith Maduranga, was the best performance on day one of the competition, according to the IAAF points awarding method. Lionel Samarajeewa’s feat in the men’s 10,000 metres and G. T. A. Abeyratne’s performance in the women’s 5,000 metres were easily the second and third best performances respectively.
Ironically, the 24-year-old, who had been pleading in vain for a new pole (for two years), from the sports authorities of the Eastern Province, to train at Gampaha (where she is currently based), will now spend the next two days of the meet with the hope of winning a car. If no other athlete breaks a National record during the next two days, she will be entitled to the grand prize. In the event another athlete breaks a National record, the best performance among the record breakers will be considered for the award.
The criteria adopted by officials of the Department of Sports Development to award a car to a National record came in for criticism, when it was announced at a media briefing last week. But the officials are continuing with the controversial method.
The officials, headed by Director of Sports, Ranjani Jayakody and her deputy Sajith Jayalal failed to explain as to why the best athlete of the meet was not eligible for the most valuable award of the meet, last week.
Awarding the most valuable prize to the best athlete has been the custom and the accepted method at local athletics championships for decades. But the method adopted by the sports authorities, (going by a recent practice at the National Youth Sports Festival), to award the most valuable prize to the athlete who breaks a record rather than the best athlete, is likely to leave top athletes with a bad taste in their mouths.
Incidentally, according to the controversial criteria set by the Sports Ministry, even if an athlete produces a world class performance at the National Sports Festival, it will not be considered for the grand prize, if it is not a National record. There is a vast difference between the standards of National records of various disciplines. While the record breaking athlete is presented with a car, the best athletes (men and women) get motor bikes.
When Karunawansa and her coach Rohitha Fernando were asked about the prospect of winning the car ahead of top performances of the meet, both said that they would be happy if the best athletes too are granted a prize as valuable as a car.
Now, it is up to athletes to avoid an embarrassing situation. Another Sri Lanka record with a performance worthy of the Best Athlete’s award is the only way out.
Probably, javelin thrower Nadeeka Lakmali is the closest bet to come up with such a performance.
But will the grass track at the Jayathilaka Stadium help her reach what she could not achieve at the recently concluded IAAF World Championship?
Lakmali improved on the Sri Lanka record thrice during the last two months, but the Asian Championship silver medalist, who finished 12th in the women’s javelin at the IAAF World Championship could not improve on the National mark, in Moscow. Even if she produces the world class performance she displayed at the world’s most prestigious athletics event here at the Jayathilaka Stadium, she will not be eligible for the top award.