| SUSANTHIKA: ‘Main dream is winning in Athens’
Colombo: Sri Lanka’s sole medal prospect Susanthika Jayasinghe is hoping to go two better than her Olympic result when the Asian Games kick off on Sunday.
The 26-year-old took a bronze in the 200m at the Sydney Olympics, winning the island’s first medal in more than 50 years and narrowly missing a silver.
A string of third-place results, including in the 100 at the recent World Cup in Madrid, has given the athlete a clear goal for the games in South Korea. “I’m looking for two golds in Busan. The 100 metres and the 200 metres — that’s what I’m aiming for,” she said.
Susanthika’s rise from poor country girl to a national heroine is the stuff of every child athlete’s dreams. The youngest of five children, she grew up in a village in the island’s lush hill country, where her father was jobless for much of her childhood and her mother was a rubber tapper in the plantations.
Susanthika’s future changed 10 years ago when an army officer saw her run in a school race and asked her to join the army on the promise she would be trained as an athlete. From there she earned a place in the national squad and launched her career with a surprise silver medal at the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994, her first international meet.
But sudden stardom had its price for Susanthika, whose career was marred by a failed drug test, which she was later cleared of, and a stormy relationship with local sports officials. Last year she announced her retirement after alleging she was assaulted at the Sports Ministry. “I will never run again. I’m going to retire because I’m sick of this,” she said at the time.
But the woman who started out running barefoot for lack of money could not stay away from the track. At the Asian Athletics Championships on home turf in August, she took gold in the 200m, equalling the championship record of 22.84 seconds.
She had a disappointing result at Commonwealth Games, where she was disqualified from the 200m, her best event, for running out of lane in the heats. She missed the podium with a fourth in the 100m, but clocked a personal best time of 11.08.
Susanthika says she is already looking to Athens. “My main dream is the 2004 Olympics,” she said.“I’ll be looking for a gold medal.”