Prior to Liyanaraachchi’s feat, the last Sri Lankan to compete in women’s 800m event at Olympics was way back in 1992 when Sriyani Dhammika Menike ran in Barcelona, Spain.
Yours truly was there in Barcelona almost three decades ago to report on Dhammika Menike and other Sri Lankans, which include marathon runner the late K. A. Karunaratne, champion swimmer Julian Bolling, Beijing 1990 Asian Games double medallist Sriyantha Dissanayake and former South Asian Games gold medallist Jayamini Illeperuma, in action.
Dhammika Menike, who represented Sri Lanka at South Asian Games, Asian Championship and Olympic Games of yesteryear, has been competing in athletics from 1980 to 1993. Now, exactly 29 after Dhammika Menike’s feat in Barcelona, yours truly will be covering another Sri Lankan who will be competing in women’s 800m at Olympic level.
Dhammika Menike had the rare privilege of representing Sri Lanka at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 not only in women’s 800m but also in the other middle distance event – 1,500m. In fact, she got this rare honour after striking back to back gold medals in 1991 South Asian Games in Colombo.
Just after she sat for her GCE Advanced Level examination in 1990, Dhammika became busy with practicing for South Asian Games in the following year and Olympic Games after.
Speaking to the Daily News from Colombo as she enjoyed Olympic action in Japan, Dhammika Menike said it is heartening to see another athlete from down the South entering the Olympics to compete in her pet event.
“I think this is a good opportunity for Sri Lankans to show their might. Most importantly, it was nice to see another girl from the South competing in the 800m at the Olympics. I wish her every success,” Dhammika Menike said.
She added that Liyanaraachchi should be able to clock something less than two minutes.
“There is a vast difference between our era and that of present day athletes. That is why I said under two minutes should be possible in 800m,” Dhammika Menike said.
The women’s 800m world record of 1.55.82 held by Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplac is one of the oldest world records still standing for 45 years. Even the Olympic 800m record has been intact since 1980 – Nadezhda Olizarenko 1.53.43.
Liyanaraachci initially came to limelight in women’s 3,000m steeplechase but she later switched to 800m due to gastrointestinal tract issues on the recommendation of her coach.
The decision proved to be right when she narrowly missed a medal, finishing fourth at 2013 Asian Athletics Championships in Pune with a timing of 2: 05.87 minutes.
|Sriyani Dhammika Menike 29 years ago during Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992
|Dhammika Menike now|
She represented Sri Lanka at the 2014 Commonwealth Games which also marked her maiden appearance at the Commonwealth Games and was eliminated from the heat in the women’s 800m event after finishing at seventh position with a timing of 2:08.31 minutes. She bagged the bronze medal in the women’s 800m event at the 2015 Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan clocking 2: 03.94. She narrowly finished behind Indian Tintu Lukka and Chinese Zhao Jing.
It was also the first medal to be claimed by a Sri Lankan athlete in an 800m at an Asian Championship after 22 years since 1993 after Dhammika Menike.
At the 2016 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Doha, Liyanaraachchi won the silver medal with a new national record of 2: 4.88 minutes. Another big moment in her career came in 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati when she pocketed the gold medal in 800m event with a timing of 2: 09.40 minutes.
She first broke the existing 24-year-old women’s 800m Sri Lanka record held by Dhammika Menike in 2016 with a timing of 2:02.58 seconds. Dhammika Menike’s mark at that time was 2:03.05 seconds.
She claimed the gold medal in the women’s 800m event at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar in 2:05.23 minutes. She became the first Sri Lankan to win a women’s 800m title at the Asian Championships.
She also competed at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics in London, where she was eliminated in the preliminary round of women’s 800m event after finishing with 2:08.49 minutes. It was the first time that a Sri Lankan athlete competed in women’s 800m at the IAAF World Championships.
In the 2018 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Tehran, she returned a timing of 2:10.83 minutes to win the bronze medal behind the Chinese duo of Wang Chunyu and Hu Zhiying.