Swimmers dig their parents’ pockets for gold
Sri Lankan swimming sensation Matthew Abeysinghe rewrote the history
books of his island nation at the 16th South Asian Games (SAG) last week
by chasing the ‘Phelpian-like’ dream of the most number of gold medals
at a single SAG and sinking the haul of six golds won by the then 25
year-old Julian Bolling, a quarter century ago in 1991 when the games
were held in Colombo. But unknown to many Matthew Abeysinghe and the
rest of the swimmers of the Sri Lankan contingent prepared for the
occasions spending millions from their own pockets courtesy their
parents while other sports received government patronage and pampering.
The perfect match: Kimiko Raheem (left) and Matthew
Abeysinghe on the podium with gold (Picture by Prince
The 19 year-old, nicknamed the ‘golden fish’ by the Indian media,
swam eight individual events and three relays netting in a haul of seven
golds, two silvers and a bronze medal with four new games records within
a span of five days of competitive racing at the Dr. Zakir Hussain
Aquatic Complex in Guwahati, India. His coach and father, Manoj
Abeysinghe has been the driving force and knows only too well how the
swimmers train and what they sacrifice to win gold for the country
without a cent from the government.
“The swimming medals we won cost our country the least as no millions
were spent (by the government) on swimming”, said Manoj Abeysinghe
speaking to the Sunday Observer.
“All expenses of a very expensive sport was borne by the parents of
swimmers. Swimming has won 39 medals after more than a 20 year gap.
The blood, sweat and pure guts and millions of our (parents’) money
have gone into this achievement over a period of six years.”
Manoj Abeysinghe also played a part in the success of Kimiko Raheem,
who won five gold medals with two games records and is a member of his
Killer Whale Aquatics (KWA) club. Matthew is the younger brother of
Andrew who as a 15 year-old lit up the Sugathadasa Stadium Pool at the
2006 SA Games with two gold medals. “We can always do better. For
instance the backstrokes for Matthew and breaststrokes for Hasanthi did
not go fully as planned but we got 12 golds, nine silvers and four
bronze for KWA”, said Manoj Abeysinghe of his personal achievement as
Matthew’s younger brother the 16 year-old Kyle also made his mark at
the competition signalling his position as the next potent Sri Lankan
male swimmer contributing towards two silver medals in the relays and a
bronze in the 400m freestyle.
Kimiko Raheem interestingly did better than her elder sister Mayumi
who bagged three gold medals at the 2006 SA Games in Colombo.
Her other sister Machiko also contributed to the Sri Lankan medal
haul with five silver medals and a bronze medal.
Both sisters were also coached by Manoj Abeysinghe who made a
prophetic utterance before the Games that swimmers will account for the
highest number of gold medals.
Presently, Machiko is training at the Penn State University in the
USA having commenced her undergraduate studies last year while the
younger Kimiko is training under a FINA development scholarship
programme at Thanyapura in Phuket, Thailand aiming like Matthew to
qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The Sri Lankan medals tally was also boosted by another FINA
development scholarship athlete Cherantha de Silva who bagged two silver
medals and a bronze from his combination of butterfly and freestyle
individual events along with a gold and two silver medals from the
Other swimmers in the Sri Lankan team were Kiran Jasinghe (two
silver, one bronze), Kavindra Nugawela (one silver), Shehan de Silva
(one gold, one silver), Ishani Senanayake (three silver, one bronze),
Hasanthi Nugawela (two silver), Hiruni Perera (one silver, one bronze),
Ridmi Rankothge (one silver), Himani Vithanage (one silver), Uththama
Silva (one silver, two bronze), Sandu Savindi (one silver) and Ramudi
Samarakoon (one bronze).