On a high after winning an unprecedented rich haul of 39 medals in swimming at the South Asian Games (SAG), Sri Lanka took time off to reflect on this performance by felicitating its aquatic athletes at a ceremony held in Colombo on February 17 (Thursday).
From this bagful of medals, as many as seven gold, eight silver and four bronze medals were won by the swimmers training at Killer Whale Aquatic Swimming. Before the Games began, such a feat was unthinkable from the perspective of a layman, but not for the club’s head coach Manoj Abeysinghe, the father of swimming sensation Mathew. According to officials who spoke at the felicitation ceremony, Manoj had planned every little detail in preparation and he even knew beforehand how many medals the swimmers would bring from Guwahati.

Gold medallist Mathew Abeysinghe reveals how he lacked focus two months before the games and how he overcame his dark period after a pet talk by his father, who is also his coach.

An elated Manoj told a large gathering present at the ceremony, held at the CR&FC pavilion, that ‘There is a renaissance in Sri Lanka swimming”. He spoke about the competition from other countries and said that with these results, followed by proper planning, Sri Lanka can look beyond them.

This is a nation which has very short memories. This is why it was so important to have a felicitation ceremony for the swimmers (8 in all) with the participation of the country’s Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera. The sports minister reiterated on delivering the financial rewards he promised on those who win medals, before the athletes embarked to India. But what came as music to the ears of Mathew was when Glory Swim Shop came forward and made a commitment to sponsor him for life.

Mathew dropped a bomb when he said that he had problems in focusing on training just two months prior to the games. “My father told me that I can either train like a donkey or live like a swimmer. I think I was doing the first,” he laughed. He said that before the games began he was far behind the benchmark. “Looking into the future, I had little to show” he reflected.

It is at this point that Mathew decided to make a mental shift. The swimmers taking off to the cool climes of Diyathalawa and Kandy for training helped him cut the distractions and focus on training. Mathew said he cherished the moment when his team won the relay and added that he had memorable moments swimming the final lap.

Manoj stressed the motive behind forming Killer Whale Aquatic Swimming in 2010 with the motive of elevating swimming standards in Sri Lanka and making the swimmers competitive in international meets. He said that the results produced at SAG have shown that phase one of the club’s goal has been accomplished.

He said that the swimmers worked very hard to achieve these results. Mathew in his speech said that people read his interviews and see him smiling with his medals, but what they see doesn’t give any indication as to how hard swimmers train. Reflecting on the amazing performance at the SAG, Manoj underscored a lesson that everybody should not miss which is to ‘continue on the high path in the sport we love’.

Mathew read out his speech and didn’t get emotional one bit. He praised his father, his coach, by saying, “You have won the gold as much as I have”.

Mathew bettered Julian Bolling’s haul of five gold medals, won at the 1991 SAF Games in Colombo. He threw a challenge to the next set of budding swimmers by saying, “I dare you to break my record”.

Swimming is fun. It is more fun when the competition is healthy among swimmers. It seems Sri Lanka’s swimming is ready to swim as one family when it comes to competitions. This was confirmed by the Sports Minister Jayasekera when he said, “There was a time when we couldn’t get the swimmers to swim under one flag”.

The swimmers form Killer Whale Aquatic Swimming who represented Sri Lanka the SAG were Mathew Abeysinghe, Kyle Abeysinghe, Ishani Senanayake, Hasanthi Nugawela, Kavindra Nugawela, Ramudu Samarakoon, Sandu Savindi and Kavin Weerasinghe.

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