With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics less than a week away, the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) knows that for the time being at least their job is done – even if the moment for relaxing is still some way away.
The past year after all has been among the most testing for athletes and officials alike. The pandemic has been life altering to say the least, but more so for athletes, for whom it has threatened to derail a lifetime of hard work.
“The huge problem for the athletes was to focus for an extra year – that is a tough, tough thing,” explains NOCSL President Suresh Subramaniam. “You know, you have your targets and then suddenly it gets shifted. The postponement of the games was definitely not easy.”
Subramaniam shares how some found it difficult to keep up the necessary levels of training, having been stuck at home due to curfew regulations. Others such as swimmer Mathew Abeyesinghe, who was in the US when the pandemic struck, was forced to train alone which brought with it its own complications.
“If he’s training alone, without a coach, who’s timing him?” points out a Subramaniam. “It’s very difficult for an athlete to push themselves in situations like that. Most of our athletes are also from outside Colombo, so training from home proved difficult too.”
It was therefore up to the NOC to ensure that they gave their athletes the best chance of reaching the games and potentially winning a medal, whether this meant enlisting contacts within the armed forces to ensure athletes received the correct nutrition to maintain their diets or simply ensuring they had training equipment on hand. Not to mention the endless petitioning of the International Olympic Committee to allow some athletes in with wildcard entries, owing to the unprecedented circumstances put forth by the pandemic.
“Normally to qualify, athletes need to take part in tournaments, but this was completely out of the question over the past year.
“To keep their morale up we even hosted motivational sessions involving past athletes around twice a week. These were held virtually, but it was essential in keeping the athletes in the correct frame of mind.”
It wasn’t just for the athletes though, even the coaches had to continue their courses, with several NOC-organised education programs held virtually for coaches and officials.
“Since it was held online, we even had foreign coaches join in on the sessions,” explains Subramaniam.
For an organization, whose sole goal is to ensure medals, much of this was above and beyond the call of duty. Since taking over the NOC in 2018, Subramaniam has overseen the introduction of a High Performance Committee to identify talented athletes and arrange scholarships for them, while there is also the Junior Development Committee – jointly conducted by the Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Education, NOC and National Sports Federations – which looks into helping talented school kids make the transition to national athletes.
But despite these efforts Subramaniam is acutely aware that there is still much more to be done to fully actualize Sri Lanka’s potential. Though he is hopeful that there might be a surprise or two this time around.
“This time’s games, I maybe wrong, but I don’t think any records are going to be broken. People have been sidelined for quite some time, with sub-optimal training conditions.
“But I’m still hopeful that someone from our contingent can come back with a medal, the talent is there, and we know the desire is definitely there. But whatever said and done we’re extremely proud of what they have achieved so far regardless.”
Subramaniam’s thoughts will no doubt be backed by all those watching along at home as Team Sri Lanka strives to do their island nation proud. The NOC has sought to keep their athletes on track and focused, amidst the most unpredictable of build-ups, and now it’s down to the athletes to put into action the hard work the preceding months have been leading up to.
And they will be backed throughout the tournament of course by a host of sponsors, namely Presenting Partners – Brandix and Hirdaramani; Associated Partners – MAS Holdings and Sunshine Holdings; Official Broadcasting Partners – Rupavahini and Channel Eye; and Activity Partners – Eventistry (Official Marketing Partner), Daraz (Official Digital Partner), Cinnamon Life (Official Hospitality Partner), LOVI (Official Lifestyle Partner), Swarnavahini Media Group (Official Electronic Media Partner), Richardson (Official Outdoor Media Partner), and PG Martin (Official Accessories Provider).