Niluka battles COVID anxiety to reach Olympics for third time | Daily News

Niluka battles COVID anxiety to reach Olympics for third time

Niluka Karunaratne
Niluka Karunaratne

Sri Lanka’s national badminton champion Niluka Karunaratne has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics for the third time.

The 36-year-old shuttler had to work hard to reach this Olympic slot. Five months ago, he contracted COVID-19 after his youngest brother Chamika tested positive.

As a result, Niluka was disbanded from the National Training Pool. However, Niluka did not give up hopes to reach his Olympic goal.

His determination was always very high. He has already proved that age is not a barrier to reach his expectations.

Niluka clinched the national championship last February - his 17th national title and the highest number of titles by a Sri Lankan badminton player.

Earlier, Niluka reached the semi-finals of the Portuguese International Championship in Portugal. His performance at this event was crucial for him to reach the Olympic Qualifying standard.

Niluka started his badminton journey at the age of eight from Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda, under the guidance of his father Louie Karunaratne, who is his mentor up to date.

He then crossed over to Royal College, Colombo, and built up his career to reach national level.

Niluka has competed in five successive Commonwealth Games from 2002 to 2018. Claiming the first international win in 2011 at the Puerto Rico International, Sri Lanka’s most decorated shuttler has bagged a total of 10 international titles so far.

The National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka and the Sports Ministry have provided good support to Niluka throughout his career.

In fact Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa was one of the first to congratulate Niluka on his twitter message and said: “Niluka once again proved he is the best in Sri Lanka to reach this standard and hope he will do his best at this Olympics.”

Niluka has now reached the Olympic Qualification mark for the third time with his great determination to this sport.

He is the first badminton player to achieve this feat and represent the country in three successive Olympics. In his first Olympics in London in 2012, he was the flag bearer as Captain of the Sri Lankan contingent.

In his very first match, he beat the World number eight, Japanese Kinichi Tago with two straight sets to advance to the pre quarter-finals.

In fact, this was the best performance by a Sri Lankan Olympian. Sri Lanka’s number one player was once ranked as high as 34th in the BWF World Rankings in 2013.

In 2016, he represented the Rio Olympics for the second time. However, Niluka had to face external circumstances to make it to the Rio Olympics.

In 2015, leading up to the Rio Olympic Games, the BWF suspended the local badminton body and, as a result, Niluka lost several opportunities to compete at international events and to gain points to increase his world ranking position.

This dedicated shuttler had to face so many difficulties to gain an Olympic slot, but his ambition was very high and his commitment is a good example for all sportsmen.