If you walk by the University of Utah natatorium and see a tall, slender man execute a perfect dive, it's probably Sri Lankan Janaka Biyanwila showing the university's diving team proper technique. Biyanwila (be-on-vila) serves double duty as coach for both the men and women divers.
Biyanwila, 25, began coaching the team in 1988 after winning the one-meter and three-meter men's titles at the Atlantic Coast Conference Diving Championships for the University of Maryland in 1986 and 1987. He was also voted the ACC diver of the year in 1987. After his victory in the ACC, he went on to represent Maryland in the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, where he placed 23rd. He now makes his home in Utah, where he shares his expertise with young, aspiring Utah divers."At first it was the physical beauty that attracted me to Utah, but I enjoy the more relaxed pace of life." Coming from a Third World nation, he describes Utah as "having all the comforts."
Biyanwila began diving when he was 10 years old and was the diving champion of Sri Lanka, a small island off the coast of India, for three consecutive years when he was 12 years old. Biyanwila came from a family rich in talent. His sister, Udeshika, was also the Sri Lankan swimming champion when she was 11 years old.
"We had really bad facilities. We dove on metal boards and the coaches weren't very knowledgeable," he said. "But we did watch Olympic diving tapes to see what proper technique should look like."
It wasn't until he came to the United States that he really excelled. In 1979 an American coach came, saw his talent, and convinced him to come to the states to dive.
"My parents looked at it as an opportunity for me to train for the Olympics. But I saw it as a way to get through school. It has been a great vehicle for me to travel and meet people."
Speaking with a Sri Lankan accent, he demonstrates proper body position while standing at the side of the pool. Biyanwilla has led his divers to conference finalist standings and three Western Athletic Conference championships for the men's team during the three years he has been coach at the U.
"Kids in Utah have good values and a good work ethic," he said, "and there is a lot of talent here."
In the summer months Biyanwila coaches children aged 5-18 at the Salt Lake Swimming and Tennis Club. He says he enjoys coaching younger children the best.
"I want to go back and coach little kids; they are more fun to teach and there isn't a pressure situation to perform (like in college diving.) I want them to reach their own potential, not a certain college standard," he said. "I don't care if they become Olympic champions as long as they are learning and building their self-confidence."
His goals are to build up a strong University program by starting with strong high school programs. "The biggest problem is the lack of coaches," he explains. "There are plenty of kids who want to dive but not enough coaches."