Team leader Manjula Kumara Wijesekara will be representing the country for the seventh time at the Asian Athletics Championship when he competes at the 2017 edition in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha which is set to begin on Wednesday (5th).
The High Jumper has won two Gold medals in the event (2005 and 2009), and might be considered as the most experienced campaigner in the Asian Athletics Championship this year.
The 33 year old represented Sri Lanka in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games as well as 2005 IAAF World Championship, but in recent years he has been very unlucky. Just prior to a major championship he has faced different kinds of problems, be it illness or some other unfortunate incident. Even this year he was diagnosed with dengue after leaping 2.25m at the first National trials in April and missed out on the much looked forward to Asian Grand Prix which he was targeting to achieve IAAF World Championship qualification mark.
Manjula is back to normal now and said he is training well ahead of the Asian Championship.
“I was fortunate to win two Gold medals in previous editions, but high jump as an event has evolved since then. Even the Olympic silver medallist is in Asia now and these guys leap over 2.35m easily. So hoping for the best in India this year,” said Manjula.
After the 2009 Asian Championship Gold medal Manjula had a quiet time where he did not have much success at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in the following year.
In 2011 and 2012 he wasn’t up to the mark, but made a return in 2013 winning the Gold medal at the Asian Grand Prix leaping 2.24m and was looking good at the 2013 Asian Championships when rain hampered his event and could only clear 2.18m finishing a disappointing eighth. Again he was at his peak next year but due to visa issues he did not get to compete at the Commonwealth Games.
At the 2015 Asian Championships, Manjula was jumping well until a miscalculation resulted in him finishing sixth although he cleared 2.20m, the same height as the third place finisher. Manjula cleared 2.20m and had one unsuccessful attempt at 2.24m.
He was placed third at that moment and defending world champion at the time Mutaz Essa Barshim who leaped 2.43m in 2014, was just warming up. Manjula took a calculated gamble and decided to try his next two attempts at 2.28m, which if he cleared would have sealed him a medal. Surprisingly Mutaz failed to clear 2.24m and Manjula punched the air in disappointment. Ultimately he had two more unsuccessful attempts at 2.28m and finished 6th. Had he attempted 2.24m on both occasions and succeeded, it would have fetched him a Silver, and possibly a Gold depending on the next attempt.
In 2016 he started beautifully winning the Gold medal at the SAG and Bronze at the Asian Indoor Games with a new SL indoor record of 2.24m, but thereafter, he got just one competition after many months and one local competition ahead of the Olympic qualification, which he missed narrowly as his ankle hit the bar while trying to clear 2.28m. He was furious about lack of competition in SL and his remarks galvanized AASL into action, and they arranged for an impromptu trial next day to allow Manjula one more shot at the qualification mark, but that didn’t go well for him.
After all those disappointments, Manjula, at 33 years, is still going well and is eyeing to bring glory to his motherland, which he has done many times before.