Athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe’s Journey

8 months ago / by Team Seema
Susanthika Jayasinghe
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Susanthika Jayasinghe

Originally from Sri Lanka, Jayasinghe was raised in Ethnawala, Warakapola. Her family had five children, and she was the youngest one. Running spikes cost more than the typical month’s salary in the tiny community 60 kilometers north of Colombo, where she was raised, and she had no access to adequate sports equipment or trainers.

By the time she was born, her father, a Ceylon Transport Board bus driver, had lost his job. Her mother, a rubber tree cutter, was forced to bear the weight of the family’s financial hardship. Later, Susanthika rolled beedi for her family, lending a helping hand. About 15000 beedis were sold in four days, resulting in a profit of about Rs. 22.50. As a result of her parents’ financial difficulties, she attended the Uduwaka Junior School for her elementary schooling. Then, she transferred to the Athnawala Maha Vidyalaya in order to pursue her academic pursuits.

A military commander piqued her interest in sports when she was competing in an inter-school race at the age of 16. A Sri Lankan Army colonel who happened to be a spectator at her event encouraged her to enlist in the military as soon as she finished high school. She accepted his offer, joined as a voluntary recruit, and put in long hours of training in sports in addition to her military duties.

Following her sporting career, she enrolled in the Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force, where she served as a Private in the 3rd Battalion, Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps. She participated in the All-Island Athletic Championships in 1994 as part of a SLAWC squad and earned the best player award.

A Career in The Sports Profession

She won the gold medal in the 200-meter race and the silver medal in the 100-meter race at the 1994 Asian Junior Championships held in Jakarta. This catapulted her to the forefront of public attention while she was just 18 years old.

After that, she became a member of the Sri Lankan national sports team that participated in the Asian Games in 1994. She competed in the South Asian Games for the first time when she was only 15 years old, at the 1995 edition, and won gold medals in both the 100-meter and 200-meter races. In 1995, she competed in the 100-meter races at both the Australian Open and the Taipei Open, and she finished both of those competitions with a silver medal.

At the age of 20, she made her first Olympic debut, competing in the women’s 100-meter race while representing Sri Lanka at the 1996 Summer Olympics. At the World Championships in 1997, she competed in the women’s 200-meter event and won the silver medal. In addition, she made history by being the first athlete from Sri Lanka to win a medal at the World Athletics Championships.

As a result of her victory in the 100-meter dash competition at the National Athletics Championships, she was given the opportunity to compete in the Summer Olympics in the year 2000. Notably, she participated in her first track event on home soil after a gap of two years since she had been sidelined for many months after incurring a hamstring injury.

At the Summer Olympics in 2000, she competed in the women’s 200-meter race and finished third, behind Marion Jones and Pauline Davis-Thompson. As a result, she became the first Sri Lankan to earn an Olympic medal since 1948. After Jones’s admission on October 5, 2007, that she had used performance-enhancing drugs before the Olympics, Jayasinghe was ultimately given the silver medal.

A Career After Retirement from Sports

As a United People’s Freedom Alliance member, Jayasinghe ran in the 2010 general election from the Kegalle district but failed to win a seat. She was hired by the Ministry of Sports in 2016 as a paid consultant for the selection and training of track athletes. Her sports ministry salary was suspended in June 2017, and, as a result, she sought to sell her silver medal. She said that despite her Olympic success, state and federal authorities had ignored her. Sri Lanka Athletics Federation authorities have also come under fire from her for their poor track and field results in recent years.

Athletes from Sri Lanka traveled with her to the 2019 South Asian Games in Kathmandu, where they surprisingly beat India’s medal total in athletics events, marking the first time in 15 years that Sri Lanka had a greater medal accomplishment in athletics at a South Asian Games competition than India.

Personal Life

She got married to her sports coach, Dhammika Nandakumara, at the Ambepussa Rest House on November 17, 2000.

She was diagnosed with dengue in 2016, which led to her admission to the Intensive Care Unit of the Diyatalawa Hospital. In 2016, her spouse was arrested for abusing her. She was admitted to the hospital but was released shortly after that. She is the mother of two children, one boy, and one girl.

The Bottom Line It is evident that life was not easy for Jayasinghe. This made her tough and even gave her more reason to work even harder towards achieving her dreams. Regardless of the hardships, even to this day, Jayasinghe continues to be a source of inspiration.