Yupun urges SL to focus on Athletics

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Yupun Abeykoon, who rewrote Sri Lanka’s athletic history by winning the Bronze medal in the 100m at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Wednesday after 24 years, urged Sri Lanka to focus on athletics.

Abeykoon became the first Asian to win a medal in the 100m clocking 10.14 seconds, and believes Sri Lanka has many talented athletes who can win medals in the future.

“This is the result of hard work. Luckily, I went to Italy to follow my passion in athletics, which I had from the age of 10. I don’t think athletes based in Sri Lanka receive the training and exposure I got in Italy. If you want to be a pro athlete there are things to work out,” said Yupun.

“Sri Lanka has so many talented athletes. “Can you imagine one Sri Lankan junior athlete who recently went directly to participate in his event at the Junior Athletic Championship in the Cali, set a Sri Lanka Junior record in a different country in different weather conditions! It was unbelievable! See what talented athletes Sri Lanka has.”     

Yupun is ready to help Sri Lankan athletes and coaches to come down to Italy and get the same exposure he is receiving. “I have spoken to the Sri Lankan authority and told them I’m always ready to help, and to work out a plan. Mine and the rest of the athletes’ futures are in their hands. I believe they will take necessary action to select the brightest among Sri Lanka’s athletes and give them the same kind of exposure I received,” said Yupun.

The Italy-based sprinter hailing from Pannala made Sri Lanka proud and became famous in one night, where all fans talked about him and sang his praises.

Earlier this year Abeykoon, 28, who holds both the 100m and 200m South Asian record, became the first South Asian and 167th athlete in history to run 100m under 10-seconds, while Sri Lanka became the 32nd country in the world to have a sub 10 second runner in the history of the 100m when he clocked 9.96 seconds in 100m at La Chaux-de-Fonds.

He is also the first South Asian 100m runner to achieve qualification for the Olympic Games, which he did last year competing at the Tokyo Olympics while is also the only South Asian 100m runner to qualify for the World Athletics Championship, a feat he achieved this year.

To put it in context, according to the World Bank, there is a population of nearly 1.9 billion in South Asia now, which is more than 24% of the World’s population, and there’s only one athlete who has run a sub 10-second in the 100m. Also, he is the 4th fastest ever in Asia and is the fastest Asian in 2022.

Believing in yourself is the key to success – coach-Laudio Liccardello

Before 2019, Yupun did not have a great run in the 100m. After leaving to Italy in 2015, Yupun struggled with injuries, and during 2018-19, he thought of giving up athletics. He was fortunate to meet former Olympian from Italy, Laudio Liccardello, who kept Yupun going, pushing, planning and executing with great coaching, to guide him to be one of the top sprinters in the world.

“When I saw Yupun a few years ago, I saw something special in him. I told him to focus on what he wants to do and work for the dream,” said Liccardello. “I’m very proud and emotional as it was a dream come true. We planned all this for many years to get a medal here, and we did it in a nice way. He was the last to qualify for the final, and believing in yourself was the reason to win. After the semi-final, I told Yupun: ‘believe in yourself because I believe in you.’ Now he has the Bronze round his neck and we can prepare for the future,” said the coach.   

“I think this year we achieved a new level (10.0 and 9.96 seconds), but work is not done yet. We have much more work to do and he needs to be consistently at the top, and that is the way how to win a medal. His next dream is to reach the final of the Asian Games, and we will work towards it,” said the coach.

Africa’s fastest man from Kenya, Ferdinand Omanyala won the Gold medal clocking 10.02 seconds, while defending champion from 2018, Akani Simbine of South Africa, won the Silver medal in 10.13 seconds in the 100m.