Susanthika Jayasinghe at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Susanthika Jayasinghe was never known to be a religious person or someone who meditated, but she had a compelling aura around her. This trait in her personality was probably present because of her ruthless determination to succeed in life.  We hear of her name again these days, more for issues that are negative than being positive. Just days ago she was diagnosed with dengue when attending a workshop she conducted for athletes in Diyatalawa. She was airlifted to Colombo for treatment; an act done on her behalf which suggests the clout she still has when dealing with authorities. But did she really use her image and credentials to earn a better ticket to life, is a question many people fond of her often ask.

Susanthika was Sri Lanka’s sprint ‘queen’ when it came to running on the track. She knew the subject like the lines on the back of her palm. This analysis about her is with regard to her focus outside the running track, more about what she did after retirement. She was fiercely outspoken, but probably couldn’t have said much if someone invited her to speak about the subject of life.

At the beginning, she was doing more than sprinting on a track. All her efforts went into running away from her early life which was so stifling. She was born in Uduwaka in a village called Kegalle to poor parents. Veteran sports journalist Asoka Gunatilake once wrote about the sprint queen initially taking up a blue collar job as a labourer who rolled locally-made cigars at her native hometown. She was fast in that too and no one could match her productivity.

Her life turned on its head when she came to Colombo to pursue a serious career in athletics. Being at zero despite all the potential she showed in her village as a runner, she soon went on to become a hero when the authorities recognized her as a national athlete.
Susanthika was naïve. It did not come as a surprise when she went on air after her Bronze Medal winning feat (which was later changed to a  Silver  by default of another athlete) at the Olympics and said that she was abused by a certain Sri Lankan sports official. She weathered all storms, including a drug scandal when the authorities found traces of nandrolone in her urine sample. She was later cleared of all charges.

People who closely observed her saw her body change from a figure sported by a perfect village damsel to one possessed by a professional athlete. She dropped her amateur approach to running and punished her body with severe workouts here and abroad. Susanthika, also fondly known as Susi, discarded many things that didn’t suit the ordinary athlete. The only thing she couldn’t drop was her radical thinking. This characteristic in her life often stifled her journey as an athlete.

When she won the Silver Medal at the Olympics, President Chandrika Kumaratunga offered her  a scholarship to the country of her choice for specialized training. She chose to go to America. But the efforts taken by Sports Minister SB Dissanayake to have a programme to recognize and honour athletes with potential merits  needs mention here. Sports Minister Dissanayake had a programme where national athletes who made it to the Olympic pool were presented with a sports car and a land, so that they could build a home. The Sugathadasa Sports Hotel was made to function well and athletes were treated in a manner so that there were no complaints. Susanthika was one among many athletes who obtained the best benefits from these facilities.

In 2009, she announced that she was pregnant with her first child and later that year announced her retirement from athletics. What happened to her life after that is similar to trees blossoming in a fertile plot of land being infected by fungus. We heard of stories about domestic violence with regard to her. Then we came to know that she was lured into politics. The sprint queen, who breezed through to win when taking on foreign competitors, was found to be struggling in life’s course; unable to even walk in the face of mounting personal problems.

Certainly, it is unbecoming for a government to watch in silence when an athlete who has brought glory to a nation in the magnitude of winning a Silver Medal at the Olympics is struggling in life. If Susanthika’s Silver Medal has value till eternity from a mundane point of view, then it is only fair that the government gives her something which she can use to live comfortably till she closes her eyes.