Airman Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena, who had given up his early athletic career after witnessing a martial arts demonstration by a Japanese coach, will become the first ever Sri Lankan judoka to compete in the 120-year-old history of modern Olympic Games when he takes part in the men’s 73kg event at the forthcoming Rio 2016 Games.

Although the summer Olympic Games had begun way back in 1896, Sri Lanka sent its first contingent only in 1948 for the London Games.

The 1948 London Games enabled Sri Lanka to make a winning Olympic debut as Duncan White won the first medal for the country. Since then, Sri Lanka has taken part in all past 30 editions of Olympic Games.

Despite judo being an Olympic sport since 1964 Tokyo Games, no Lankan judokas has taken part. However, South Asian Games silver medallist Dharmawardena will break that hoodoo when he competes in the men’s 73kg event first round at the Rio 2016 Games next Monday (8).

Dharmawardena, who has excelled in several international meets, has proved his might with the Sri Lanka Air Force judo team. Having won the silver medal in his pet event at the last South Asian Games held in Guwahati early this year, the 24-year-old is looking forward for a place in the victory podium in Rio.

Identifying the talents of the emerging Lankan judoka, the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka arranged an international Olympic solidarity

scholarship for Dharmawardena with the assistance of the Ministry of Sports..

During his preparations for the Rio Olympics, Dharmawardena underwent a month-long IOC solidarity scholarship in Slovenia. He trained under Slovenian national champion turned coach Fabjan who had won national titles between 1977 and 1992 in the under 78kg weight category. A multiple champion of Slovenia, Yugoslavia and Austria, the 58-year-old world class coach has produced many international stars, including Olympic champion Urska Zolnir and European champion Rok Draksic.

“I have been training hard. The training I had in Slovenia was really good and it was a blessing for me to fine tune my techniques before the Olympics. I had been training alongside the Slovenian national champion who had finished sixth at the last 2012 Olympics. I feel I am in better shape now,” Dharmawardena said.

Dharmawardena has been an athlete at junior level. “I was studying at Jinaraja MV, Gampola and was competing in the 100m and 200m events. But a rare incident entirely changed my sports career,” he said.

Young Dharmawardena was in grade six when a judo coach from Japan had come to his school for a demonstration and a work shop.

“I had been attending athletic practices then. But my schoolmates told me that a Japanese judo coach is coming to conduct an exhibition session. I just went to have a look and not to take part,” he said. But Dharmawardena, in his early teens then, had been greatly impressed merely by witnessing the demonstration and had ultimately given up sprinting to turn to judo. “I liked the sport very much. I was highly impressed by the Japanese coach. From that day onwards, judo has been my passion,” he added.

Dharmawardena has already underlined his supremacy in domestic competitions by winning the Sri Lanka Open Championship on four successive years and his 73kg category on five successive years.

Asked about the key to his success as a judoka, the 25-year-old from Gampola said it was hard work and dedication that had elevated him to this level. “You cannot look for shortcuts to success. If you are to succeed as a judoka, you have to concentrate fully on the sport, work hard and should be willing to make a lot of sacrifices,” said Dharmawardena, adding that there are no instant recipes to success. “Only hard training and determination would take you towards success,” he said.

Dharmawardena, is still being coached by his school coach Amal Ratnayake, and is extremely happy that he was able to create history. “Competing at Olympics has been my dream.

Now that I have got that opportunity, I want to make the best use of it and make my country proud. The NOC supported me to fulfill my dream and I will do my best,” he added.

The Lankan judo champion is keen to get intensive training under an international coach after the Rio Games to keep his medal chances alive at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “The training I had in Slovenia helped me a lot.

The coaches there were of the opinion that they could have put me in better shape if I had come there much earlier. One month’s time is hardly enough to produce an Olympic medallist. If I could get at least six to 10 months training before the next Olympics, I could definitely become a medal prospect,” Dharmawardena said.

“I am keen to master judo further, get the right guidance and fine tune my technique more. If I could train under an international coach, preferably in Slovenia, in my lead up to 2020 Olympics, I could definitely win a medal,” he concluded. 

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