Kimiko and Mangala in action tomorrow

Dinesh Weerawansa reporting from Brazil

RIO DE JANAIRO, Aug. 6 - Swimmer Kimiko Raheem and rifle shooter Mangala Samarakoon will be the first Sri Lankans to be seen in action in the XXX1st Olympic Games which began here on Friday. The duo will launch Sri Lanka’s challenge in Rio on the third day of the 207-nation Games on Monday (7).

Airman Samarakoon, competing in his second successive Olympic Games after his debut in London 2012, will be the first to launch Lanka’s challenge when he fires in men’s 10m air rifle qualifying round from 9 a.m. on Monday (5.30 p.m. SL time).

“I have been training hard. I am employed at Sri Lanka Air Force and if not for the support extended by my employer. I wouldn’t have come this far, if I have not got the backing of my employer. I will try my utmost to come out with an impressive score,” he said.

Five-time South Asian Games gold medalist Raheem will also be seen in action on the same date when she competes in the women’s 100m back stroke qualifying round heats scheduled to be worked off at 1.02 pm (9.32 pm SL time on Aug. 7).

“I am happy with the preparations I have made during the past one year. Breaking the one minute and two second barrier will be my dream,” Raheem said after a light work out here. In her last international event before the Olympics, teenager Raheem proved her class at the 2016 Thailand Age Group Swimming Championship, winning six gold medals in the women’s 50m backstroke, 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle.

But Raheem said she was disappointed that she had narrowly missed the Olympic qualifying timing in the women’s 100m backstroke “I was looking forward to come to Rio as a qualified swimmer by battering the FINA qualification mark of 1:02.36 in the 100m backstroke event.

But I missed it by a mere 0.27 seconds. I will make every endeavor to achieve that first and to progress from that point onwards,” a determined Kimiko said.

A total of 34 lasses will compete in the women’s 100m back stroke with five first round heats lined up to them. Raheem has been drawn in heat two. She will swim in lane six, flanked by Alexus Laird of Seychelles and Caylee Watson of ISV.

Out of the 34 competitors in women’s 100m back stroke heats, Australian Emily Seebohm has the best entry time of 58.26 seconds.

Apart from Seebohm, there are 12 other simmers who have broken the one-minute barrier in this event.Meanwhile, the unparalleled career of American swim sensation Michael Phelps will conclude at Rio 2016 as the most decorated Olympian competes at his fifth Olympic Games. Phelps, winner of 18 gold medals in swimming and 22 in total, has the chance to add three individual medals to his tally, having won the 100-metre and 200-metre butterfly and 200-metre individual medley at the US trials.

The 31 year-old could become the first swimmer to win the gold medal in the same event in four consecutive Games (100-metre butterfly and 200-metre individual medley). He also is projected to compete in three relays,meaning he could take his final haul to 24 golds and 28 medals.

Phelps will renew rivalries with adversaries such as South African Chad Le Clos and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh in the butterfly events.

He will face 21-year-old all-rounder Kosuke Hagino in the medley and one final joust with his old friend and rival, 11-time medallist Ryan Lochte of USA.

Out of the 908 swimmers - 492 men and 416 women, entered for the week-long action in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, Katie Ledecky of USA, still unbeaten in an international championship, could prove the stand-out performer as she seeks a freestyle treble at 200m, 400m and 800m that was last achieved by Debbie Meyer of Australia in the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Australia secured a double-double in the backstroke at the world championships in 2015 as Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm won the men’s and women’s 100-metre and 200-metre respectively.

There will be new champions in both races, as London 2012 winners Matt Grevers of USA and Tyler Clary of USA both failed to qualify. Larkin will face USA pair David Plummer and Ryan Murphy in the shorter race and heads the rankings in the 200-metre.

The USA team has won most medals at each of the last six Olympic Games but will be hard pressed to match the 16 golds they won in the pool at London 2012 – 50 per cent of the 32 titles on offer.

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