Sri Lanka Army’s Dinesh Priyantha Herath created history winning country’s first Paralympics gold medal and proved his coach Pradeep Nishantha’s prediction right as he beat India’s defending champion and world record holder in the men’s F46 javelin throw in Tokyo yesterday.
In his third attempt, Herath hurled the javelin to a distance of 67.79 metres, the furthest a Para athlete in the F46 category had ever thrown in the history. The world and Paralympics record holder Devendra Jhajharia who was attempting to defend his title, also improved on his previous mark but the Indian’s best throw fell more than three metres behind the Sri Lankan’s new mark. The previous World Record mark was 63.97 metres.
While the 35-year-old Herath stormed to gold, the reigning Rio 2016 champion Devendra claimed silver with a throw of 64.35 metres.
Last week in an interview with The Island Pradeep Nishantha, the Gateway College coach who also trained country’s Olympic thrower Sumeda Ranasinghe said that his charges were ready to create history in Tokyo on Monday. And it was exactly what Herath and Dulan Kodithuwakku did. While Herath won country’s first ever gold, Kodithuwakku won a bronze in the F64 javelin throw making it the first time the country had won more than one medal at Paralympics.
For Herath it was the second Paralympics medal. Herath first won bronze at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
While acknowledging the support given by the Sports Minister, Sports Council, Army Commander, his coach, Paralympics Committee and the officials of his regiment, the Gajaba Regiment athlete dedicated his gold medal to his wife.
Coach Pradeep Nishantha flanked by gold medal winner Dinesh Priyantha Herath (right) and bronze winner Dulan Kodithuwakku (left) after their historic achievement at Tokyo Paralympics on Monday.
“I am very happy because my dream came true. I have no words to describe the feeling,” said Priyantha, who kissed the Sri Lankan flag after claiming victory.
Commenting on his historic feat Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva yesterday told The Island that he had an opportunity to meet Sgt. Dinesh Priyantha Herath before the Sri Lankan Paralympics team left for Tokyo. “Javelin thrower Sgt. Herath was confident of securing the Gold at F 46 event,” Gen. Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff said. Responding to a query, Gen. Silva said that Sgt Herath of the Gajaba Regiment was wounded in action on Dec 16, 2008 during fierce fighting in the Kilinochchi area.
Enlisted to the Army on 18 March 2004 as a recruit, Herath completed basic training at Saliyapura. Following the Kilinochchi incident, he took part in Army-organized Para Athletic training events at the GR Regimental HQ. In 2012, he won Gold in Javelin Throw (52 m) in Army Para Athletic Meet, first place in Malaysia’s Para Athletic Meet (52.95 m) in 2012, second place in Germany’s Para Athletic (Qualifying) Meet (53.09m) in 2017 and again the second place in London Para Athletic Meet-2017 recording 59.90m in the same event.
In the F64 javelin throw event held in the afternoon yesterday, Kodithuwakku was in the second place until his final attempt. While India’s Sumit Sumit led from the first throw, Kodituwakku commenced his attempts with a throw of 62.11 metres before making his best feat in the fourth attempt, a throw of 65.61 metres. But he had to settle for bronze medal after Australia’s Burian Michal delivered a throw of 66.29 metres in the final round.
Sri Lanka has participated in every Paralympics since 1996 but until yesterday had won only bronze medals at the quadrennial event. Country won the first Paralympics medal, a bronze when Pradeep Sanjaya was placed third in the T46 400 metres at the 2012 Paralympics in London. Dialog has been the main sponsor of Sri Lanka’s Paralympics teams during the last two decades.