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(Pix by Chamila Karunaratne)

Akalanka Peiris might already be a sensation with schoolboy swimmers after winning a Gold medal at the 6th International Sports Games in Russia, but the unassuming teenager says he still swims for fun.

The award winning feat came in the 100 metres back stroke where Akalanka said he overcame tough competition. One reason why he produces incredible performances in the pool is perhaps due to his attitude towards competition. “I don’t pressurize myself unnecessarily and don’t think of other swimmers when in the pool,” Akalanka said in an interview with The Nation.

He is now pretty serious about swimming and sees a future for himself after being a regular swimmer for about 13 years. The teenager remembers his start when his dad, Lalindra, taught him the first lessons in swimming when he was just 3 or 4 years old. Winning a championship at the age of 7 provided him with all the motivation he needed to pursue this aquatic sport. At present there is hardly a day when he doesn’t get into the pool and starts his day with a training session as early as 4.50 am.

Akalanka Peiris
Akalanka Peiris

He concentrates immensely on the 100 metres back stroke where his recent timing in Russia read an impressive 58.74 seconds. He also swims in the butterfly and freestyle events. The lad has already travelled abroad many times for swimming meets and enjoys every moment he is in the water. Is there anything that he misses because he is swimming at a very competitive level? “I miss my friends because of my training. I wait for the school vacation and when there is no swimming I go and play cricket and rugby with them,” he said.

Swimming is not everything in life for this teenager who is a student of St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya. Akalanka took a break from competition (not swimming) when the Ordinary Level Examination was around the corner. The results from giving books all the attention paid off truly well. He obtained nine As. At present he is studying mathematics for the London Advanced Level Examination.

He took this opportunity to thank his mom, dad and sister who he said were his biggest fans. Akalanka also receives the attention of several coaches like Mahi Chandralal, Upul Vijithasiri and Rajindra Fernando (coaches at St. Peter’s) along with Julian Bolling and Rajitha Fernando. Apart from all the facilities he enjoys, he spoke fondly of the swimming pool at his alma mater and said, “Things are so much easy when you can do your swimming early in the morning and then crossover to the classroom to study. St. Peter’s College affords me this opportunity.”

Akalanka sees a future for himself in this sport which has appealed to him so much. “Swimming helps me to maintain mental strength, take winning and losing in the same spirit and keep my body healthy,” he said when told to talk about the benefits that one can derive from this sport.

He represented Sri Lanka at the South Asian Games in India and at the 5th Asian School Games. He won two silver medals at the latter. He is training hard at present and said he organizes his swimming sessions at St. Peter’s College, Rainbow Aquatic Club and at a private pool in Panadura. His future ambition is to represent Sri Lanka at the 2020 Olympics, a feat which he sees as hard as scaling the Himalaya.

He said that the sport needs funding and swimmers needed more support in the form of taking part in competitions abroad if Sri Lankans are expected to excel in this discipline. He sees a long journey ahead of him, but said that despite the bar being raised for him on a daily basis there are two things still etched in his mind; have fun in the pool and beat the clock.