2022 sees the first ever appearance for Sri Lanka at a World Rowing Championships thanks to support from World Rowing’s Development Programme.
Last year, the Sri Lankan Rowing Federation recruited Spaniard Pedro Sanz Lopez to develop rowing in the country. Speaking this week in Racice, Pedro explained that whilst Sri Lanka has a long history with rowing, his role is to now get it up to Asian level standard. It is particularly challenging at the moment and the support they have received therefore makes a significant difference.
“At the moment, the economy has been really hard in Sri Lanka. It has been one of the worst economic crises for thirty years, but the Minister of Sport has continued to support us, and the Federation and now we are in contact with World Rowing Development for support and things continue to improve.”
Sri Lanka has two athletes at these World Rowing Championships and also had two at the recent World Rowing Under 19 Championships. 31-year-old Maheshi Haupe is racing here in the lightweight women’s single sculls. She started rowing in 2013 whilst at University and works as an Army Officer in Sri Lanka. Listening to Haupe, you can tell how much it means to her to have the opportunity to come and compete.
“We got the chance to come here and we are very happy for that. We have a big economic crisis in Sri Lanka so this is a great opportunity to come here. The Minister of Sport in Sri Lanka and the Federation have worked to send us here. World Rowing gave the chance to us, it’s a real impression, so thank you very much for that.”
Sri Lanka’s other competitor is Shanaka Kariyawasam who, aged 34, is from the Sri Lankan Air Force and is equally grateful to be racing in Racice.
Whilst there are only two racing here, the support they have been given has enabled them to grow rowing in Sri Lanka.
“For the first time this year, we had a trial selection. We put everyone for the first time in the singles and these two athletes are the best ones in Sri Lanka”.
“We started with a big crowd. Now, because of the crisis, we have a smaller team – about eight senior athletes, but we are mostly developing the juniors, and we have about 12 athletes. Then in the youth development pool, we have another 12 athletes. So, we are working into a long-term strategy.”
Continuing on longer term goals, Pedro says that their focus is on next year’s Asian Games. “This is why we want to have this international experience and little by little, continue growing”. He continues, “Long term, we are looking to be regular medalists at the Asian Games and we know for that’s 5-6 years’ work. So, all of these young generations that arrive aged 18-20 years old and then we can start to challenge other big nations in Asia that are regular medalists. Also, we want to continue developing individually our athletes and hopefully get the spot for the Olympic qualification.”
Reflecting on the performance of his two rowers so far at the world Rowing Championships, Pedro says “We struggle a lot just to come here, so the moment we crossed the door of the airport, it was already a great performance for us! Technically, their improvement takes much more time than we had so the conditions were challenging and we didn’t see them at their best. We will try to get a spot as high as possible.”
Haupe was also proud of their achievements so far and excited about the future;
“It’s a good thing for us, and Sri Lanka and the Federation and everyone in Sri Lanka who is rowing; they are seeing what is possible. For me, my aim is to get a medal in Asian level first. He [Pedro] came to help us do that and we work hard to get our country higher and get the glory. We are doing our training and get the experience from this competition and next year in Asian games, we try to get a medal for the country.”