19 June 2018
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Cooray’s untold story

dilHe trains while working. He runs 17 miles back and forth from his residence to his work place, a bakery shop, where he is a shop assistant. Despite having to strike a balance between work and training, the South Asian Games gold medalist, who left for London leaving room for controversy theories to breed one after the other some seven years ago, has powered his way to earn an entry to run in the London Olympics marathon which will be held on Sunday. During last seven years Anuradha Indrajith Cooray has adapted to UK which has also become a second home to thousands of South Asians and has a young family with twins to support, though his "civil status remain single".

When Anuradha Indrajith Cooray left for London some seven years ago, there was controversy surrounding his sudden departure.

Cooray and 1,500 metre runner Chaminda Wijekoon were the training partners under their Army coach Brigadier Parry Liyanage, who groomed them like his own sons, often opening the doors of his house to the under privileged duo. But when Cooray left suddenly following his somewhat notable double international representations at the Athens Olympic and IAAF World Championships in Edmonton (2005) controversy theories started brewing. He had fallen out with his coach for some reason and he would not allow him to come back was one of the rumours which many believed was the truth. Cooray did not return to Sri Lankan until last year. That was months after the demise of Liyanage.

"When I left I had not properly taken leave from Sri Lanka Army. Other than that there was no controversy. I did not tell Liyanage sir that I was leaving because he would not allow me to give up athletics. That was the only reason I could not face him. I did not come because I had started to work here," says Cooray with his sunglasses fashionably worn on his head and a silver ear ring shining brightly in the rare London sun shine.

"When I came I gave up everything and came. I gave my Athens Olympics kit to Chaminda Wijekoon. I had no intention of engaging in athletics again until I saw the Beijing Olympics marathon on TV here. I thought I had wasted a lot of time. When I saw the guys who ran alongside me in 2004 Olympics still competing in Beijing I thought I must have another go," says Cooray who at that time was not sure whether he could get the nod of the Sri Lankan authorities to represent the country as he was considered to have deserted the Sri Lanka Army.

When he first came to London he was without a job for months. When he first got the job he had to do night shifts for nine months at a filling station. "That was the only job I could get. I spent several years like that."

After seeing the Beijing Olympics marathon on TV, Cooray was inspired to take up running again. Cooray went to Vale of Aylesbury Athletic Club to start training properly under Nick Taylor. Since 2008 he has been training under Taylor and has represented the club in many events.

When he first ran the London marathon (he had also previously run in the London marathon) after ending his self exile from the sport he did well despite being ‘a bit bulkier’. But he could not get the nod of the Sri Lankan authorities.

But as of late he has not only won the approval of the Sri Lankan Athletics authorities but is also in good shape. "Yes that time I had put on a little bit. Now I have reduced my weight by more than ten kilos."

During the last couple of years Cooray has produced several notable performances in Britain where he once beat all British nationals to be placed third in Bristol in a long distance event. That had won him many accolades.

With Sri Lanka’s athletes failing to earn qualifying standards for London Olympics and Cooray getting his clearance from the Sri Lanka Army, the Sri Lanka Athletics Association turned to him and opened the opportunity to compete at the last Pune International marathon. Cooray could not reach the qualifying standards there but got through when he finished the last London marathon in a time of two hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds. It was ten seconds faster than the minimum ‘B’ Grade qualifying mark.

He will be running in familiar conditions when he competes on Sunday. But Cooray is different from the marathoner who ran in the Athens marathon in 2004.

"In the run up to the Athens I did not have other problems to attend to. I had only training to do. Now I have other responsibilities to shoulder," says Cooray who has to support a young family apart from supporting his mother in Sri Lanka.

- The Island

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