Yupun Abeykoon: Faster than a speeding bullet

In sprinting, South Asians are not renowned at all, compared to the usual champions, the Jamaicans and African-Americans. We are not even considered on the world map of sprinting. That was, until the advent of Mudiyansalage Yupun Abeykoon, better known to Sri Lankans as Yupun Abeykoon. Born in Negombo on New Year’s Eve, 1994, this little boy completed his education at St. Joseph Vaz College, Wennappuwa.

Before becoming a Sri Lankan speed legend, he won the bronze medal in the 4 X 100m relay at the 2015 Military World Games in South Korea, and the gold medal in the 4 X 100m relay at the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal.

What propelled Yupun to stardom, was 10.16 seconds of pure pace at the 100m in Dessau, Germany in September 2020. This was the fastest time by both a Sri Lankan and a South Asian in this event, earning him the moniker of “South Asia’s fastest man”. In the indoor 60m event, he also holds South Asia’s fastest time with 6.59 seconds. As if that wasn’t enough, he broke the South Asian 150m with 15.16 seconds. Why stop with three records, when you can have the whole sprinting package? A few days ago in Italy, precisely on 22nd May 2022, he broke the South Asian record for the 200m with 20.37 seconds bringing home the entire record book. In athletics, if there is a tailwind propelling a sprinter towards a finish line with a wind speed over +2.0 m/s, it is not counted as a record, but at the Centro Sportivo Fontanassa in Italy on 18th May, Yupun clocked 10.04 seconds for the 100m finishing second in Heat 1, behind Lamont Marcell Jacobs, which is the fastest time ever for a South Asian under any condition. This was the closest our people have ever come to the legendary 10-second barrier of sprinting. And if you need any context as to whom this Lamont Marcell Jacobs was; that, ladies and gents, is the 2020 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m. The author of this article was in complete disarray as Yupun broke yet another record while this piece was being written, as he clocked 10.06 seconds in the 100m event in the same city of Dessau, Germany where he broke the 100m record two years ago. This race once again broke the South Asian 100m record, but it is more curious as Yupun was running into a -2 m/s headwind where the wind was blowing against him! With proper wind conditions, who knows how fast Yupun can go? The 10-second barrier isn’t looking so far now after all.

Yupun was also selected for the Olympics last year, however, he finished 6th in his primary heat and dropped out. Despite that, he bounced back becoming the first and only Sri Lankan to ever compete in the Diamond League tournament in 2021 and secured a 4th place finish.

Sprinting in Sri Lanka has gradually lost public attention after Susanthika won her silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but it found a resurgence via Yupun. He’s only 27 years old, and there is plenty of gas left in the tank. Over the past few months, Yupun has been improving in leaps and bounds over his sprint times. Who knows what records he will break in the coming months? Sprinting is always an unpredictable sport. We never foresaw Usain Bolt achieving the impossible with 9.58 seconds, or the dark horse Su Bingitian achieving what was thought to be impossible for Asians with 9.83 seconds in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Likewise, Yupun blurs the line between the possible and impossible, as those legs are running faster than what a little boy from Negombo ever thought was possible.

Article by: Sachith Keragala | Faculty of Medicine

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