SPORTS

A string of spectacular performances, the most recent of which he described as his finest, has helped sprinter Yupun Abeykoon climb the men’s 100m global rankings, with the World Athletics rankings revised this week placing him ahead of Japan’s Olympic medalist Yoshihide Kiryu.

The sprinter from Italy, who improved the National and South Asian region 100m records to 10.06 seconds last month, ran 10.08 seconds against a -1.2 headwind on May 31 in an International ‘A’ Grade event in Ostrava. Soon after the race, the sprinter rushed to social media to say it was his best performance ever. With a time of 10.08 seconds against the wind, he is almost certain to be the first South Asian to break the ten-second barrier.

In Ostrava, he ran with some of the world’s finest sprinters. Former World Champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica, World and Olympic 100m finalist Akani Simbine, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion, Great Britain’s Reece Prescod, a European Championship silver medalist, and World Championship silver medalist Zharnel Hughes finished ahead of him. Elijah Hall of the United States, who is now ranked 25th in the world, finished sixth when a photo finish separated him from Yupun, who finished fifth.

Yupun Abeykoon is ranked 36th in the World Rankings, which were updated this week, and he has moved up to 35th in the ‘Road to Oregon 2022’ list, which determines who competes in the upcoming World Championships.

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Such amazing performances in the 100 metres were regarded to be out of reach for Sri Lankans throughout the last two decades. Yupun and his coaching staff have proven that incorrect. After Sriyantha Dissanayake’s podium finish in 1990, no Sri Lankan male athlete had won a medal in the 100m at the Asian Games. Even when the medal-winning performances fell short of the current national record. The cancellation of this year’s Asian Games will deprive Abeykoon of a historic opportunity at a time when he is regarded as one of Asia’s best.

According to this week’s world rankings, Bingtian Su of China is the only Asian athlete ranked higher than Abeykoon in the 100 metres.

While Yupun is rated second in Asia in his favourite event, former Asian record holder Femi Ogunode of Qatar is ranked sixth in Asia.

Unfortunately, with cricket dominating the limelight, Abeykoon’s amazing exploits have not received the attention they deserve in the mainstream media. It’s doubtful that the country’s sports hierarchy is aware of Abeykoon’s enormous progress in the world’s most competitive track discipline.

With the Asian Games postponed, the World Championships and Commonwealth Games next month will provide him with the best opportunity to take centre stage.

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