Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) : Going for gold

By Duvindi Illankoon

Azquiya Usuph who secured a gold in snowboarding-a sport she picked up in 2015 shares her experience with the
Mirror Magazine

What’s it like to get up at the crack of dawn every single morning, to jump into a not so warm swimming pool and do laps? Azquiya Usuph can give  all the gory details. However, one won’t find the 16 year old complaining though-she loves swimming, and has done so for as long as she can remember.

We meet Azquiya about something else though-she has just secured a Gold for Sri Lanka at the 2016 Dream Program in Pyeong Chang, a programme introduced by the Gangwon Provincial Government of the Republic of Korea as a run up prior to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeong Chang, Korea 2018. Azquiya placed first in the category of snowboarding-a sport she learnt in 2015.

But first, some background-Azquiya has an impressive set of swimming credentials to her name. She is first and foremost a swimmer with Olympic dreams, having started competing professionally from a very young age. “From my small days I loved going to the beach,” she tells us. “So I guess it makes sense that I began swimming pretty early.”

She took swimming more seriously when the family moved to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia for a few years. Returning to Sri Lanka, Azquiya began competing at her age group level nationally and later, internationally. Her placements are too extensive to include in this space, but a few include spots at the Sri Lanka Aquatic Sports Union’s National Age Group B Division Swimming Championship, Sri Lanka Schools All Island Age Group Aquatic Championships, SICC Open Invitational Swimming Championship in 2015 (in Singapore) and at the National Age Group Aquatic Championships. She is the current 50 Meter Backstroke record Holder of the Inter International Schools Swimming Championship Meet.

To get here, Azquiya has had to give up certain things. She trains six days a week, meeting the demands of a rigorous schedule that involves land training as well as quality time in the pool. This she balances with her studies as a student of the British School in Colombo. Like many of her fellow swimmers, Azquiya is optimistic and committed-though she admits that it can sometimes be hard. Her greatest supporter in all this is her father. Huzam Usuph, as a former athlete, knows that his daughter must endure a rigorous schedule if she is to accomplish her dream to be an Olympic swimmer.

Azquiya first took part in the Dream Program in 2015, which was when she learnt snowboarding for the first time. Dream Program is a winter sports training program and competition to nurture young talent from around the world with special focus on countries from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East hosted by Gangowan Province in South Korea since 2004. The programme aims to create participants from their respective nations for the Pyeongchang 2018 Games.

In 2015, when Azquiya participated for the first time, she was a complete novice to snowboarding. Mr Usuph had taught her to surf in preparation-“you’re holding your body in the same way,” she says-but Azquiya had not dealt with the snow before. “It was really fun,” she says of the experience. “We learnt how to snowboard over the period of 10 days.” Representing Sri Lanka, Azquiya placed first in snowboarding that year. Returning in January this year with 179 participants from 44 countries, Azquiya once more secured a Gold Medal for Sri Lanka in the category.

Back in Sri Lanka, Azquiya’s plan is to retrain her focus on swimming; she draws inspiration from the likes of Olympic medalist Missy Franklin (whom she met and chatted with, when Franklin was in Sri Lanka) and knows that to get there, a lot of hard work will have to factor into the equation. Azquiya says that “sportsmanship is one of the best things I’ve learnt from being a swimmer,” and that her community of fellow swimmers has been supportive throughout.


*Note : Azquiya is an active member of IBSC

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