Shot putt and hammer throw National record holder Charith Kapukotuwa had sports as his priority before he moved to the USA. It changed dramatically from sports to education after arriving in the land of opportunities. Seven years after leaving for the USA, Kapukotuwa has scaled heights in both sports and education only a very few Sri Lankan athletes have achieved.
The athlete hailing from Chilaw, set the latest of his Sri Lanka records in shot putt at the recently held National Athletics Trials. That was during a short visit by the champion thrower to Sri Lanka.
The former Royal College, Colombo athlete threw the putt to a new record distance of 17.55 metres in his final attempt. He is the only Sri Lankan to have hurled the putt beyond the 17-metre mark, a distance which was considered unachievable for the locals sometimes back.
“Priorities changed. It was pretty much sports when I was in Sri Lanka. But after I moved to the US it changed. Studies came first and sports came second,” said Kapukotuwa in an interview ..
What changed his mind –
“After looking at people and starting to talk to them, I realised that I have to get a good education if I am to succeed in sports. Then you can perform well and reach the next level if you are educated,” said Kapukotuwa who graduated from the Chadron State University in Nebraska. Law and forensics were his areas of studies.
Kapukotuwa’s comments came at a time when the country’s most recognised athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe’s decision to auction her Olympic medal in the face of financial difficulties grabbed headlines.
“After an athlete gives up sports, he should have something to do,” said Kapukotuwa who acquired his bachelors degree in 2014.
Kapukotuwa joins some of the well-known Sri Lankan athletes who excelled in sports while studying in the USA. Asian Games double gold medallist and former national marathon record holder S. L. B. Rosa and Asian Games medallist and former national record holder in the high jump, Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam, and current national record holder in the high jump, Manjula Kumara are some such athletes who excelled in sports while studying in the USA.
Here are excerpts from the interview with Kapukotuwa:
How his performances improved after moving to the US
In 2010, my best was 14.64 metres in the shot putt. I was struggling to go beyond 15 metres. It was like 20 metres for me. I was struggling to find the right equipment, right coach and correct nutritional food. I was fortunate to find a scholarship to go to the USA. In 2011 I struggled as it was the first time I was in another country. In 2011, I went up to 15.25 metres. The Discuss best was 48.64 metres (in 2kgs). I started hammer throw in 2011 and my first performance was 41 metres. In 2012 I changed my school. I joined Chadron State University and I threw 16.86 metres. In 2012 my Discus performance was 50 metres. I reached 47 metres in the hammer. In 2013, I was not doing well. Shot putt was 16.64 metres, discuss was 51.36 metres, hammer was 50.44 metres at the Army Championships. In 2014 I had a throw of 17.03 metres in the USA. I got injured before I graduated in 2014 and I had to take five months off. I started again. I did my rehabilitation here in Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka record in the hammer throw at the National Championships in 2014. In 2015 I returned to USA to do my Masters. My performances in shot putt was 16.36 metres. Hammer throw was 52.53 metres and discuss was 52.64 metres.
Disappointment of not representing Sri Lanka
In 2016 I was expecting some international competitions. I got qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 but they did not send me. Since 2010 I had no international exposure. I lost interest. From 2010 I have not gone to any international competition. And I concentrated more on my studies and work. I was a graduate assistant. So I did not compete the whole year. I was practising just for the fun of it. I decided to leave the military in 2016 because I felt I was wasting my energy because I was not competing at a National Championships in 2014.
How he got the scholarship
I got a message from a coach called David Schenck of Barton College in Kansas. He asked me whether I was interested in coming there on a scholarship. He had found my performance on the internet. After talking to him on Skype I was in the US within two months. Then I was 18 years old.
His thoughts on improving the national record in shot putt
I did not really feel that throw. I feel that I have bigger throws within me.
I wish I can I stay here but if I go to USA, I will be able to get better competitions. If I stay in Sri Lanka, I will not have a chance to improve myself. At this point I am looking at 19 metres.
I want to be a teacher at a university. In sports my ambition is to represent the country at the Olympics. There are several athletes who are being offered scholarships in Universities in the USA but some of them are reluctant to accept such offers. Kapukotuwa’s advice to them
If you have an opportunity, just get them and go there and improve.
It is really hard to explain the satisfaction. You can’t compete against such athletes in Asia. I was fortunate. That is where you can see the best athletes. You will be able to look at the technique of the best performers. I competed against Ryan Crouser (2016 Olympic shot putt champion). I would not have got that opportunity if I did not go to the USA.
(By Reemus Fernando /The Island)