The 35th National Rowing Championships concluded today at the Diyawanna Rowing Centre. After four days of intense competition, the winners were announced and the tired but happy crews gathered together under a perfect sunset (and a rainbow!) over the Diyawanna.
Surprising no one, the ladies of the Sri Lanka Army once again lifted the cup in the Women’s Open Category, having won all 5 gold medals. The Sri Lanka Navy Men shared their title again this year, but with the Sri Lanka Army rather than the Air Force. With 2 gold medals each, the two forces jointly lifted the Major Percy Fernando Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the institution with the most number of gold medals in the Men’s Open Category.
The Sri Lanka Army Men also won 3 gold medals in the Men’s Intermediate Category, making them the automatic winners. This came as no surprise to most people, who watched the soldiers racing through the finish line ahead of their competitors throughout the four days. The Women’s Intermediate Category, on the other hand, saw the honours evenly distributed, with the Sri Lanka Army, the Sri Lanka Navy, the Bolgoda Lake Rowing Club and the University of Colombo all winning one gold medal each.
Continuing their winning streak, Ladies’ College was awarded the trophy for the most amount of wins in the Girls’ Junior category, with 5 gold medals. Close behind them was Bishop’s College, with 3 gold medals.
The Boys’ Junior Category was led by S. Thomas’ College, with their 6 gold medals. Ananda College and St. Joseph’s College trailed behind with 2 golds each. Ashika Ranaweera of S. Thomas’ College also won the Colombo Rowing Club Schoolboy’s Colours, while Anitra Fernando of Ladies’ College took home the Colombo Rowing Club Schoolgirl’s Colours.
The Open Category is usually dominated by the Tri-Forces, with this year’s regatta being no exception. However, the varsity teams made a good showing. “While winning the Intermediate Trophy was a highlight, winning silver [for the Women’s 2-] and bronze [for the Men’s 4+] in the Open Category marks a great milestone in UOC Rowing history,” said Lahiru Perera, captain of the University of Colombo Rowing Crew, explaining what an honour it was to place in a category that usually showcases the best talent in the island.
The Nationals 2020 saw 21 institutions represented on the water, and Mr. Rohan Fernando, President of the Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka, did not fail to point this out in his speech to all contestants at the closing ceremony. He spoke of how the ‘carnival atmosphere’ that prevailed during the days of the regatta was exactly the spirit the ARASL hoped to encourage in rowing. Two of the schools which rowed in this year’s nationals did so for the first time; Defense Services College and Visakha Vidyalaya.
Another first for the Nationals 2020 was the inclusion of an exhibition race by the para-rowers of the Sri Lanka Army. Sergeants Vajira Pushpakumara and Mahesh Jayakody both rowed in the first para race at the Sri Lanka National Rowing Championships. Mr. Rohan Fernando explained that the ARASL hoped to include more opportunities for the para-rowers.
Speaking further to ThePapare on para-rowing, Sgt. Pushpakumara explained how after he was injured in action in 2009, several members of the ARASL had got a special boat for him and other disabled veterans. Though originally a form of therapy, these para-rowers have now represented the country at the 2019 Asian Rowing Championships, with Sgt. Pushpakumara winning gold there. Both he and Mr. Fernando spoke about how rowing provided an excellent form of therapy for injured people and expressed hope that many other disabled people would also embrace the sport.
Addressing the gathering, Mr. Mark Maurice of the ARASL encouraged the spirit of friendly rivalry among the competing crews, praising the fact that the teams all shared equipment even with their competitors. This willingness to share is seen by several people to be the key to introducing the sport to many others, as the cost of the equipment is prohibitive to many. “At the moment, unless you go to a big Colombo school, or one of the three universities, or join the forces, you cannot get into rowing. That’s a problem that could be negotiated if the Sports Ministry would be willing to invest more in procuring equipment so that this sport could be introduced to as many people as possible,” said a source, who declined to be named.
Despite these issues, rowing is gradually gaining ground in Sri Lanka, as evidenced by the large crowd that slowly began to collect their bags and trophies and leave as dusk fell on the Diyawanna Rowing Centre.