|The 200 M between Susanthika and the Gold
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|Author:||vihanga perera [ Wed Sep 20, 2006 12:27 am ]|
|Post subject:||The 200 M between Susanthika and the Gold|
“Susanthika Jayasinghe” – Suzie, for short – is a politically loaded phrase: perhaps the most loaded, Sri Lankan athletics has hitherto produced. A career running for twelve years amidst injury and “bad” starts; pressure and determination; scandal and glory – Susanthika is one athlete, perhaps the only one athlete, whose mission has remained the same right throughout, amidst inconsistency of performance – “I’m running for my motherland and I will win gold for my motherland!”: she still maintains her teleology as she did back then, though she started out as Susanthika and has now ended up as Suzie. And she has – wherever injury, “bad” starts, sudden cramps, pressure from officials, and (least but not last), fellow contenders have beaten her not; yes, then, she has.
When Susanthika won a 200 M gold at the 10th South Asian Games (SAG) in Colombo, she was asked for some post-sprint comments by the journalist doing the Live coverage for Rupavahini. The so-defined “Golden Girl” of Sri Lanka went on TV and did a good two minute monologue, in which she made the following points among others:
1. That first and foremost, she thanks the Sri Lankan Security Forces for providing tight security for the Games, in spite of the volatile state of security in the country at that point.
2. That it’s her glory to run for the country and win medals. She thanks all the supporters irrespective of age, for their support.
3. That she could have done better, in terms of timing, had Damayanthi Dharsha (who had pulled out of the sprint citing injury) run. Susanthika felt Dharsha should have run; not that Dharsha is a challenge, but....
4. That Susanthika felt like running with a bunch of nangis
5. That she will break her Olympic timing at the forthcoming meets.
Susanthika was clearly overjoyed with her victory, even though she had been running with some nangis, as she exploded with mirth, waving the Sri Lankan flag all around and blowing kisses to the stands. Jani Chaturangani, the Sri Lankan sprinter who came second, in her say to the media, noted that she will try her best to better her timing in the next meet. She took 30 seconds of Air Time.
Who, then, is Susanthika Jayasinghe: apart from the endeavouring athlete and fighter she is? Clearly, she is not so much of a golden girl as the media portrays her to be, is she? More than her gold, Susanthika Jayasinghe has been famous for her banter, accusations and – more importantly – for her outward show of patriotism. In fact, records show that her gold weighs much inferior to her banter (her chitchat, per se). I might be mistaken here, but the 400 M runner from Sri Lanka, Rohan Pradeep Kumara has won more international medals than Susanthika has. How come he is not the “Golden Boy”, or whatever you may call a man who wins medals?
According to Susanthika, she runs but for Mother Lanka and for her fans. Well, since most politicians are doing the same, we should not take Susanthika at face value either: as stated earlier, she is quite a “loaded” athlete. How do we know? We only have her word for it, in any case. Isn’t it a self-elevation and an accession to a self-defined martyrdom: to say “I’m the one who runs not for personal glory, but for the pride of the Nation”. By saying so, Susanthika creates a myth – a story / a fable in which she has placed herself at the centre of “people’s expectations”. Not that the people expect her to run for Mother Lanka or Mother Theresa. It is Suzie who makes us believe that she should run for Mother Lanka. Her insisting on it has made the fact a part of the euphoria. It has been concentred in Suzie’s identity. It is essential for Suzie’s existence, since medals don’t always come easy – the outward patriotism, then, becomes a common thread and a superimposed hope for a “future (medal)”: the patriotism makes each race a strategically constructed national enterprise; of which Suzie is the martyr.
Suzie’s “patriotic myth” is galvanized and aided by our naive morality which expects every citizen of a Nation State “do things” for the sake of their Motherland. Ambiguous as it is how Sri Lanka came to be a feminine component of geography (how it became a “mother”), one clear fact is that sports has always been a site of evoking patriotism. It is a modern circus and a “bloodless circus” where the gladiators of the Nations fight a Cold War for the ultimate stand. Every ball bowled at a Cricket match, then, is political. It closely concerns the glory, the expectations, the hype etc of a Nation State (or, so it is represented in the media).
Hence, the Bodyline Tour was not just Cricket. The 1936 Berlin Olympics was not just a Nazi leader watching Jess Owens run. Darryl Hair was not just an umpire – he was a man with a conscience that seemed to prefer white coffee to black. Hansie Cronje’s hamartia might outlive his towering sixes and his dogged spirit as a Cricket captain. All athletes who dope – is it, then, for their Nation? Now, you need not run for the Nation, but you can still run for glory. You need not run for the Nation, unless the consciousness / myth of playing for the Nation give the martyr – the medallist – a “cut”: be it stardom, be it popularity. You can very well run for the Nation and not holler it out every time you happen to come across a microphone. That’s why I like Sirasa’s jargon: we report; you decide. Likewise: you perform. Let the Nation decide.
But, the problem is, when you stuff things down peoples’ throats it sinks deep. Specially, when you have been “wronged by the officials”; specially when you come from the rural nooks, growing up on “Jak fruit and poverty” – for you come there fighting and with the sweet essence of the countryside: in the Nation State of Sri Lanka, it counts. More than just “counts” – it becomes a deciding factor on how people perceive you: how they “create” you. So, Rohan Pradeep does not fit the bracket occupied by Susanthika’s “construction”.
Rohan Pradeep does not, to start with, stuff it down your throat. He doesn’t insist for whom and for what he’s running. Dharsha doesn’t do it. Jani doesn’t do it. They do not pipe it on Live TV. Nor do they reinforce and re-emphasize the myth of Genesis: as to where they come from, where they’re going etc etc. But, when you speak – and when you speak a language that is appealing to the nationalist ear and swelling with patriotism, morality – then, you ring true. Susanthika very often reminds the Nation of her humble origins and the many obstacles she had to make through. This is a reinforcing of the “myth” of the chaste rural girl making it to the top, amidst (and fighting) the many discouraging agents of evil. The romance of such a myth quite effortlessly pushes Suzie to a state of martyrdom: a state of being a “hero”.
That, then, is part of Susanthika’s greatness: she can combine strong patriotic evocations with a “myth” of being wronged, trampled, abused etc. she, then, is projected as simultaneously being both the masculine warrior and the feminine chastity of the wronged damsel. This is, as noted, the very thing other athletes do not do: they just run. Hence, we judge these other runners mainly by their performance and from whatever little that is said about them. Amidst fable of patriotism and the Distressed Damsel Monologue, the fact of, say, Rohan Pradeep Kumara’s vibrant international performances get blurred.
Susanthika Jayasinghe forecasts what more Mother Lanka can expect from her in the future. Her next endeavour is to better her Olympic timing. This comes after a comfortable victory over some nangis at a regional (South Asian) meet. She was quite vexed at her timing being not up to her expectation. The reason for this fall in the timing, she says, was due to Damayanthi Dharsha’s pulling out of the event. It is true that stiffer competition assists in one’s timing, but Suzie should not show the internal tensions of the team to the world in this accusive nature….specially, since she’s running for Mother Lanka. In any case, Suzie’s timing has very often been excused on the pretext of “bad starts”. Perhaps, that excuse is now planning its own retirement after a successful career.
Good solid bravado: the only other sports personality who did quite the same was Cassius Clay – and poor Cassius did a sport where you couldn’t bend down for cramps half way through.
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