Lifting the weight of the nation

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“There are enough talented athletes in Sri Lanka, but they lack facilities and plans which I experience now. If they get that, they will be world beaters.” These are the words shared by Yupun Abeykoon with Ceylon Today’s Anjana Kaluarachchi marking his historic sub-ten second record.

Abeykoon’s words ring true for a number of sports in Sri Lanka. In a previous article by Ceylon Today we revealed that as a result, many star athletes from schools and universities level rarely ever translate into world class competitors, preferring the stability of a traditional day-job, or perform only enough to be taken into the military’s sports team, the exception being cricket and football.

With little to no support from the Ministry of Sports, many athletes in the country struggle to balance their training and employment to make ends meet. Alongside sustaining themselves and their families, these athletes have had to find ways to shoulder the cost of making the time to train, afford sporting equipment, insurance and even funding to travel and compete in international competitions.

Many struggle to even obtain visas to travel and compete due to the indifference of many Ministry officials. For these athletes, representing Sri Lanka on the international stage comes at their own personal expense despite breaking records and winning international championships, with little to no recognition.

The powerlifting athletes of Sri Lanka face a similar fate. With little to no support from even their own federation, let alone the relevant ministry, many athletes who have time and time again won championships, shattered regional records, bringing great glory to the Sri Lankan flag go unnoticed, unappreciated, and left with no other choice but to lift their heavy burden alone, literally.

World class athletes

Ceylon Today had the opportunity to meet some of the athletes from the Sri Lankan Powerlifting team after their completion of the day’s training, the location being the Crossfit Colombo gym at Pelawatta.

 There, we met Ransilu Jayathilaka, Hiran Jayashantha, and Uvindu Jayasinghe; three of Sri Lanka’s best powerlifters who have literally risked life and limb in the sport of powerlifting, bringing multiple medals and awards home every single year.

Ransilu is one of the finest powerlifters Sri Lanka has ever had. Currently holding seventh place in the World Rankings in his weight class, Ransilu has consistently dominated the Asian and Commonwealth championships for the past many years. Last year, Ransilu was the winner of the Asia Championship held in Turkey, the fifth time he has accomplished this.

Hiran and Uvindu are also extremely skilled powerlifters. A rising star in the sport of powerlifting, Uvindu is already competing in the global stage, and winning medals.

What is Powerlifting?

An individual competition sport, powerlifting is all about strength and power (hence the name). Athletes of the same weight class compete to lift the most weight possible in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Three attempts are allowed each and the heaviest weights lifted are added up to make the score.

Athletes push themselves to the limit in their pursuit of victory, with competitors lifting weights up to 300kg and beyond, heavier than a tuk tuk loaded with passengers. Naturally, being a powerlifter comes with some considerable risks and health concerns. Each athlete risks joint dislocations, muscle tears, broken bones, while competing, and further damage to the body over a period of time, without the proper use of safety tools such as knee and elbow sleeves and belts.

“I know powerlifters who ended up paralysed because of accidents while taking part in the sport,” shared Ransilu as we talked. “It’s a dangerous sport, and we take a lot of risk in our hands because of the lacklustre support we have.”

Needless to say, proper medical consultation as well as insurance would usually be a must for athletes taking part in such a risky sport. However, what usually are necessities for the sport are luxuries to Sri Lanka’s national powerlifting athletes.

At what cost?

“Most of my equipment had to be bought while I was returning home after competing overseas,” Uvindu shared. “Also, safety equipment such as the belts and sleeves are discarded after a period of use. Mine are long overdue of a replacement but I can’t afford to do so, neither can I find the proper equipment here either.”

Time is another valuable resource that these powerlifters have very little of. Training for powerlifting is gruelling, and stretches on for multiple hours each day. For Uvindu, who already consistently lifts weights around the 300kg mark, this leaves very little time for sleep and recovery, as he has to continue his full-time corporate job. With insufficient money to sustain his nutrition as well, Uvindu feels he is unable to unlock his full potential as a result. 

“Nutrition, training facilities and equipment, even travel tickets, lodging and living expenses to participate in international tournaments, we have no choice but to shoulder the burden on our own,” Hiran expressed.

Doing the best they can, these national team members who represent the country have achieved much, raking in multiple medals and competition wins. But they have also been unable to participate in a number of competitions as well, mainly either being unable to afford travel, or delays in processing documents at the hands of indifferent officials by the federation and ministry.

Still forging ahead

At the moment, Ransilu, Hiran and Uvindu are preparing to take part in three upcoming international competitions; the Asia-Pacific Powerlifting Championship, the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championship, and the Asian Powerlifting Championship which will all take place in the final months of the year. Yet with the on-going crises in Sri Lanka, they worry if they would even be able to afford the chance to compete at all.

Understandably, finding sponsors and financial assistance has been difficult with the current circumstances. But with very limited alternatives, they continue to train towards their goal, with the resilience and grit they’ve mastered as powerlifters.

(Pix by Laksiri Rukman)

Performance of the Sri Lanka Powerlifting team in international championships

Singapore open

2013 – 4 medals

Commonwealth Powerlifting Championship

2015 – 12 medals (turning point of
powerlifting)

2017 – 8 medals

2019 – 21 medals

Asian Powerlifting Championship

2016 (Indonesia) – 26 Medals

 2017 (India) – 13 Medals

2018 Mongolia – 41 medals

2019 (Kazakhstan) – 17 medals

2021 (Turkey) – 19 medals

Asia Pacific Equipped/ Classic Powerlifting Championship

2019 – 34 medals                         

World Championship

2016

2017

2018

2019

World Rank 7th in 120 kg weight class

World Rank 9th in 93kg weight class

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage