While the rest of the Sri Lankan contingent were getting their shoes shined for the opening ceremony at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, swimming ace Akalanka Peiris had his head buried in exams at the residence of the Sri Lanka embassy in Jakarta.

In a first for Sri Lanka sport, 19-year-old Peiris was given special permission by Sri Lankan education authorities to take three of his papers for the GCE advanced level examination in Jakarta. Or without him, Sri Lanka would not have been able to field a team in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

 “I was very keen to take part in the Asian Games as well as do my A-Levels. This is a very important exam for me and I must thank everyone who have got behind me and made this happen,” a pleased Peiris said.

 Peiris, a Peterite who bagged nine ‘A’s at the GCE ordinary level exams sat for the first of three A-Level papers – an aptitude test – on Saturday morning, a few hours before Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared open the 18thAsian Games at a grand opening ceremony that included 4,000 dancers.

 There was no song and dance for Peiris who didn’t attend the opening ceremony as he was brushing up as he had two more papers to do, English and Economics, on Monday (August 20) and Tuesday (August 21).

Two officials from the Sri Lanka Examination Department accompanied Peiris to Jakarta where he sat for the exam at the same time as thousands of other schoolchildren were facing their exams in Sri Lanka. The National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka had foot the bill for the two officials.

“Akalanka’s parents came to us and told us the problem their son faced. He is a very good student but also is a good swimmer and we wanted him to participate at the Asian Games. I spoke to the Education Ministry and was told that as long as he was able to sit the exams at the same time as other children in Sri Lanka, and under supervision, they would not have a problem of him taking it in Jakarta,” related Maxwell de Silva, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka.

“He is a key member of our swimming team and we were more than happy to help him out. But we are also very thankful to the authorities, especially Education Ministry’s director general Col. Manjula Kariyawasam, for being flexible and allowing such a thing to take place. This is perhaps a case of history being made – I can’t remember any other athlete representing Sri Lanka sitting for A-Level examinations at a major sporting event,” De Silva added.

Peiris is the Sri Lankan record-holder for the 50m backstroke, 100m backstroke and 50m butterfly events. He will take part in these events as well as be part of the 4×100 m freestyle relay team.