Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 14 February 2016





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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 Gunasekera)

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 coach.

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 relays.

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).


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