While the rest of the pack wilted under the blazing heat and humidity, Sri Lanka Dinesh Priyantha Herath was in his element, and he was loving it.
The 32-year-old javelin thrower came up with his best throw of 67.79m to set a new world record in the men’s F46 category and clinched his country’s maiden gold in Paralympics at the Olympic Stadium on Monday (30 August), when the temperatures reached 33 degrees Celsius with full sunshine.
“I was ready for this challenge and was training under the sun for months now. The climate here in Tokyo and Sri Lanka is pretty much the same and I was clearly the zone from the start. I just enjoyed the weather out here today as it was like I was training in my backyards,” said a jubilant Herath, who did not let go of the Lankan flag for even a second and seen carrying it around all through to the change room.
Herath stole the show from firm favourite India’s India's Devendra Jhajharia, who settled for the silver with his best throw of 64.35. Jhajharia’s compatriot Sundar Singh Gurjar won the bronze medal in the same event with his best throw of 64.01.
Herath, who severally injured his left arm during a military action against the LTTE took to Para sport in 2014. But the more time he spent doing sport, the more difficult it became for his family; financially, it was not sustainable and he was relying on the pension from the army.
“Yes, my wife was very upset with me doing the sport. However, now she supports me. I have three kids and I can’t wait to go and see them. They will be thrilled to see me back with a gold,” said Herath, whose deep scars from three bullet wounds are evident on his left arm.
“It took me four years the piece my hand together. Those were the most testing times of my life. However, javelin has given me everything, it has helped me get my life back together and this gold is the result of all the hard work that I have put in,” said Herath.
Back at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai, Herath settled for a sliver behind Jhajharia.
The duo share a friendly rivalry and though the competition is fierce while on the field of play, off it the bond goes beyond leaps and bounds.
“You know we both started together and have great respect for each other. It’s like a journey together and it is great to see the sport grow in Asia. If we can contribute in the development of the sport, then nothing will be like it. Today I have put Sri Lanka on the map.”
“You will be surprised to know there are so many kids now following the sport of javelin," he continued. "It has simply picked up. There is a belief now that we can compete with the Europeans. You will see. Asia will emerge as a superpower in javelin in the coming years.”
Sri Lanka’s team leader Deepal Lekam Ralalage could not hide his tears and choked with emotion, saying: “You don’t how much this medal means to me as a nation. We have waited for this day for years. That’s why these tears are not stopping. This gold medal from Herath will carve a new path for the sport in our country. The government was already doing a lot and hopefully if we can clinch a few more medals from here, then nothing like it.”