Sri Lanka recently made history in a good way when Yupun Abeykoon, Sri Lanka’s very own Olympic sprinter and the fastest man in South Asia, clocked in 15.16 seconds for 150 m at the first provincial phase of the Trofeo Perseo 2022 held in Italy on 24 April 2022. This latest feat sets a new record, making Yupun the fastest man in Asia for 150 m, surpassing the previous five-year-old record of 15.35 seconds set by Yoshihide Kiryu of Japan in 2017.
Yupun has had no shortage of accolades and accomplishments throughout his career, but speaking to Brunch, he shared that there were certain milestones in his life that he considered to be turning points that had propelled his career forward and cemented his status as an internationally recognised athlete.
Recounting these key career highlights which he considered to be his landmark moments, Yupun made note of when he was able to break the 60 m indoor record in January 2021, when he renewed his own personal and national Sri Lanka 60 m indoor record with a timing of 6.59 seconds at the Italian Athletics Indoor Championship (here he surpassed his own national indoor record of 6.78 seconds which he achieved in 2017), his direct qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and of course, earning the title of South Asia’s fastest man since 2020.
Yupun is the first and only Sri Lankan to have competed at the Diamond League, which is an annual series of elite track and field athletic competitions comprising fourteen of the best invitational athletics meetings. The series sits in the top tier of the World Athletics (formerly known as the IAAF) one-day meeting competitions.
Speaking about his most recent achievement which has dubbed him the fastest man in Asia, Yupun said: “This record is a very big step in looking forward to the upcoming competitions because I was able to find out where I stand among my competitors. I am overwhelmed and at the same time I’m looking forward to the next few races.” Yupun also shared that these achievements were all the more significant to him because at 27 years of age, it showed how far he had come from his early stages of shattering national records, to now breaking regional records.
Indulging in a blast from the past, Yupun shared how he began his journey of becoming a world-class athlete starting from his younger days in Pannala and St. Joseph Vaz College, Wennappuwa where he discovered his talent and passion for the sport.
As a junior athlete, Yupun has represented Sri Lanka at the 2013 South Asian Junior Athletics Championships held in Ranchi. He has also competed at the 2015 Military World Games representing Sri Lanka and took the bronze medal in the men’s 4×100 m relay event.
He was able to train at the Fiamme Gialle Sports Centre during his scholarship in Italy, and in 2019 he represented Sri Lanka at the South Asian Games and claimed the gold medal in the men’s 4×100 m relay event. He was also part of the team which set a new national and South Asian Games record in the men’s 4×100 m relay event during this event.
On 8 September 2020, he broke the South Asian record as well as national record in men’s 100 m event after winning an athletic competition which was held in Dessau, Germany, which also earned him the nickname ‘South Asia’s fastest man’.
He also claimed a bronze medal in the men’s 100 m event at the Gala dei Castelli as a part of the World Athletics Bronze Level Series Meet which was held in Switzerland, making him the first Sri Lankan sprinter after the 1990s to be placed among the top three in a running event at a competition, running alongside top European and African sprinters.
Yupun described his journey after leaving for Italy and his progress since 2016 as something that has been rather challenging: “It wasn’t the easiest decision to pursue only a sporting career over a university degree in Sports Management,” he shared, but eventually, it paid off and he is now immensely proud of having made that difficult decision to endure a career solely in sports.
Since Yupun’s achievements are invaluable for Sri Lankans – especially for gifted youngsters wondering if pursuing their passions could truly pay off, Brunch asked Yupun to share his thoughts on Asians in athletics when competing on the global stage: What does it mean to have a world record and is it more difficult for an Asian athlete considering physiological limitations or otherwise?
Yupun remained positive in his response, noting: “With the development of technology in the sporting world, sports has taken bigger steps forward. I believe that everything is possible and I’m optimistic that I can reach my goals with the coaches and technical team I am working with.” He did however comment on the plight of athletes when it came to resources, especially in terms of the development of athletics in Sri Lanka and the necessity for athletes to be endorsed by brands, openly saying that he felt disappointed that his competitors overseas had those privileges which were difficult to come by for those in his part of the world.
As a world-class athlete, it is clear that personalities such as Yupun are simply cut from a different cloth, and when asked what qualities he believed he possessed that allowed him to keep pushing and reaching greater heights, he shared that he had never been one to give up on his dreams. One of the main things he highlighted was the importance of taking things step by step toward your goals, because, “it’s not easy to do the work you have to put in as an athlete to run under 10 seconds.”
Yupun also shared that he was incredibly lucky to have the support system he has. “My parents have always been helpful to me and have been there for me in every decision I’ve taken in my life,” he said, and he also spoke of his current coach based in Italy – Claudio Licciardello, whom he trusts to get him through any obstacles he may encounter in his athletic career.
He shared: “Nobody really understands what athletes go through in order to get where they really want.” This had actually inspired him to one day become a trainer in order to share his experiences with up-and-coming young athletes. He noted that it was important to know what it took to be among the best and not enough people knew the struggle.
Finally, as he basks in the glory of having become the fastest man in Asia, Brunch asked Yupun of his future plans. “I am looking forward to the races in the Europe tour that’s starting, the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the World Athletics Championship,” he said, adding: “I hope to do my best, to make a name for myself and to make my country proud.”