Duncan White (22) won a silver medal in 1948. From 1900 to 2000 Duncan White and Miguel White, an athlete of Filipino-American descent were the only Asians to have won podium places in the 400 metres hurdles at Olympics.
Tokyo Olympics – 6 days to go
by Reemus Fernando
continued from yesterday…..
Asia’s struggles in 400 metres hurdles
After Duncan White won a silver medal in 1948 the country had to wait for 52 years to see a Sri Lankan man compete in the 400 metres hurdles again at the Olympics. In 1948, in a race where the Olympic record was broken, White was just fractions of a second behind the Champion and just over a second slower than the then world record. Today the World Record and the country’s national record of the discipline are worlds apart. Early this month Norwegian champion Karsten Warholm broke the world record (subject to World Athletics ratification) with a 46.70 seconds feat. Today, Sri Lanka’s top hurdlers are struggling to stop the clock before 51 seconds. The national record which is 21 years old is just below 50 seconds.
Certainly, White’s was a rarity in this US-dominated event. The 400 metres Olympics statistics would discourage analysts to suggest it as a prospective medal winning discipline for athletes outside US and Europe. When Kerron Clement won the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the RIO Olympics, the Trinidad-born athlete became the 18th American to win the gold medal of that discipline.
Two Whites and Asia
By the end of the 2016 Olympics, the men’s 400 metres had been contested 24 times at Olympics. US athletes have won 40 medals overall. That is more than half the medals distributed in the discipline in history. They have made a clean sweep of the medals on five occasions. The first time an Asian stood on the podium for the medals ceremony of the 400 metres hurdles was in 1936. Miguel White, an athlete of Filipino-American descent won the bronze medal behind Glenn Hardin of the US and John Loaring of Canada. The two Whites, Duncan from Sri Lanka and Miguel from Philippines remained the only Asians to have won Olympic medals of any colour in 400 metres hurdles for hundred years. In 2000 a third Asian entered the list when Hadi Somayli of Saudi Arabia won a silver (47.53 secs).
Hurdlers from English speaking countries
The only times the winner of the 400 metres hurdles came from a non English speaking country were in 1980, 2004 and 2012. In 1980 the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics. The Jimmy Carter boycott severely devalued competition. The Soviet Union dominated the medals table of the athletics competitions and the Olympics. Volker Beck of East Germany became the first hurdler from a none-English-speaking country to win the gold medal of the event. Felix Sanchez, the winner of the 2004 Athens and 2012 London Games is from the Dominican Republic where the official language is Spanish. Though he was of Dominican descent, he was born and raised in the United States.
When the athletes take their mark for the 400 metres hurdles at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics there will be half a dozen Asian athletes including three from the hosts. Saudi Arabia -born Abderrahman Samba who represents Qatar is the highest-ranked of them. The Asian Games gold medalist, who earlier chose to represent Mauritania – his father’s homeland – before eventually switching allegiance to Qatar and moving to Doha, has a personal best of 46.98 seconds, though he is yet to run under 48 seconds this season. His personal best is also the Asian regional record. Anyone familiar with the world-class training facilities available in Doha and knowledge of hurdles guru Hennie Kotze would be surprised by the fascinating performances he produced in 2019. Qatar hosted the last World Championship in Doha and the investments for world-class facilities paid dividends in the form of medals as Samba clinched a bronze. Japan the host of the Olympics has six of the top ten performers in the 400 metres hurdles in Asia this year. Apart from investing in infrastructure the host countries of major sports events also invest in the development of sports in their countries. When talented athletes are provided with the necessary facilities they become good enough to climb up the rankings irrespective of where they come from.
No one is indispensable
By Rex Clementine
When Sri Lanka’s selectors benched a whole lot of seniors, they were going to build the side on three prolific young players. Kusal Mendis had been earmarked as the man destined to break Kumar Sangakkara’s batting records, Niroshan Dickwella with an ability to get under the skin of the opposition had been identified as captain material and Danushka Gunathilaka, the man best suited to bat the power plays. Alas, their excesses in England breaching the bio-bubble saw them being sent home from the tour and handed one year suspensions plus a hefty fine. It’s all back to square one now as the selectors have been forced to look for replacements.
There was little doubt that Mendis was destined for greatness from the moment he was picked to make his Test debut with less than a handful of First Class games to his credit. The other two although were not the same class as Mendis, SLC had heavily invested on them. Now, they have thrown it away and it’s a classic case of talent going astray; they have dug their own graves. When they are ready to return, as we have seen time and again, they may not have their slots available as there’s a good possibility of other players establishing themselves.
Sri Lanka Cricket has received some flack for reducing the sentences from two year bans to one year. Rightly so. Over the years, SLC had soft-peddled when some of these players have stepped out of line and there is a general feeling that the board hasn’t been firm. Here was a good opportunity to uphold the decision of the Disciplinary Committee but the board has taken the middle path!
SLC has argued that they have in fact doubled the fine from Rs. five million each to Rs. ten million. However, if you think that fines are going to make them feel the pinch, you are badly mistaken. Ten million is big money for an ordinary cricket fan but not for a cricketer. All he’s got to do is to go on one tour to recover that money. What the board also needs to find out is whether there was any remorse after the players were sent home after breaching the bio-secure bubble.
If there was no remorse, by reducing the sentence you are sending the wrong signal that these players are indispensable. The game is bigger than individuals and no one is indispensable.
As long as you treat grown up men with kids gloves, however much you try, it’s just a matter of time before they get into trouble again. Danushka Gunathilaka in particular has been a serial offender with a horrible history. In conclusion, all what you can say is that he has got away with a slap on the wrist.
It is learned that the Disciplinary Committee was looking at one year suspensions but the three players were not honest with their confessions such as the time of their rerun to the hotel. Players’ representatives have grossly denied these allegations. It will be interesting to read the learned judge’s observations.
There are more important questions that need to be asked.
How come those from middle class families once they become icons, fall apart. There is something wrong in the system and you need to introduce a player education system which can ensure that players remain grounded. In sports or for that matter in any walk of life, nothing will be achieved if you lack discipline.
Dr. Suranga says Sri Lanka should take a leaf out of Zambia’s development programme
by Reemus Fernando
Dr. Titus Suranga Fernando, who is in Tokyo as the Chairperson Medical Commission of National Olympic Committee of Zambia says that Sri Lanka can take a leaf out of Zambia’s sports development plan to improve standards in Olympic sports.
In an online interview with The Sunday Island Dr Fernando said that Zambia’s ‘Podium Performance Programme’ could be an ideal development model for Sri Lanka.
“Zambia is in corporation with a number of other Southern African countries and promote competitions in selected sports among athletes of these countries. That has helped Zambia improve standards. That could be a model that Sri Lanka can adopt to improve standards,” said the Sri Lankan doctor.
Like Sri Lanka, Zambia too has won only two Olympic medals in history with its most recent victory recorded in 1996 Olympics. Samuel Matete won the silver in the men’s 400 m hurdles. But from just seven competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics where only two progressed beyond the first round, Zambia has produced a marked development within the last four years to field a contingent of over 30 athletes of whom a vast majority are qualified athletes. “All athletes except in swimming are qualified athletes.”
At the point of writing two boxers, namely Chinyemba Patrick and Zimba Stephen had progressed from the first round and their two track and field athletes were yet to compete.
“We (Zambia) had three boxers who qualified for the Olympics. They are between 19-22 years of age. So they have at least two more Olympics to go.”
Some of their women’s footballers also earned recognition despite failing to make the quarterfinals. Their captain Barbra Banda wrote her name into the record books by becoming the only female player to have scored two hat tricks at an Olympic Games and her six tournament goals also equalled a record.
According Dr. Fernando, the ‘Podium Performance Programme’ has helped the country improve standards in performances.
“Regular health monitoring which is usually not available to athletes who are not in the programme, the services of sports nutritionists and sports psychologists and other essential services are provided on demand to athletes in the programme. Conducting coaching camps for coaches and athletes, providing equipment, upgrading venues and providing support to conduct international competitions are also done.”
Dr. Fernando suggests that such a programme would benefit countries like Sri Lanka.
By Friday evening, seven out of nine Sri Lankan competitors had concluded their events and been eliminated in the first round.
More on Lorenz and Daya Sahabandu
On one of those boring lockdown days of early June, Lorenz Pereira lit up The Sunday Island with a highly entertaining piece in which he recalled what he termed as one of his most satisfying sporting achievements. That was the making of Daya Sahabandu the cricketer. Several generations have rolled by since Lorenz Pereira’s heyday in sport, and for the benefit of today’s man about town, a few paragraphs on Lorenz Pereira would not be out of place, before we begin discussing the enigma that was Daya Sahabandu.
Eustace Lorenz Pereira was a born sport; both as a player and a person. Cricket came to him naturally. Blessed with a fine cricketing brain while still in school, he was an excellent left-hand bat, a very useful off spinner and an outstanding fielder in the gully or in the covers in particular. Given the flamboyance, the confidence and the style with which he played his sport, it was natural he became the cynosure of all eyes, be it when playing cricket or rugby football.
Arguably, the finest ……
Lorenz first played for Royal under Fitzroy Crozier in 1956. He was Michael Wille’s deputy in 1957. He went on to captain Royal in 1958 – the year in which Michael Tissera captained St. Thomas’. Lorenz also played for Royal in 1959, when the team was led by Sarath Samarasinghe. His sporting accomplishments and talents were such, many wise heads considered him as arguably, the finest sporting talent that Royal had unearthed till then.
Lorenz won Royal College colours at Cricket, Rugby, Athletics and Tennis, in addition to also winning Public Schools Athletics colours. He would have won more, had not those ancient Egyptians and horologists decided that a day should consist of only 24 hours and no more. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to sport, and given his other accomplishments and agreeable attributes, Royal College appointed him their Head Prefect in 1958. Further, in recognition of his continued outstanding achievements at cricket, he was picked the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1959.
Lorenz Pereira made his mark at rugby for Royal as a brilliant wing three quarter but did not captain his school. One of the standout features of his play was his ability to hit high speed from a near standstill position within seconds. His play was also characterized by his tendency to frequently cut in and join the threes in mesmeric overlaps, often side stepping the enemy with no discernible drop in speed. He preferred to make his advances without having to endure human contact. This he often achieved through the use of speed, dash and verve. Memorably, in the return leg of the Bradby shield in 1958 Lorenz playing on the right wing threw the ball into a line out, and from the ensuing maul the ball changed hands several times while moving down the line and across the field to the left wing, where a speeding Lorenz Pereira was at hand to collect the final pass and score a sensational try! That brilliant piece of work won Royal not only the match, but also the Bradby Shield in the dying moments of that game.
Talent without question
After leaving school Lorenz Pereira played cricket for the SSC and rugby football for the CR & FC before proceeding to Cambridge, where he didn’t play much and therefore did not win a Varsity Blue. Given his awesome talent and his natural flair, this could only have been through some lack of application on his part. In fact, if I were to hazard a guess, he may have devoted far too little time to sport for reasons best known to him; for his promise and his sporting talent were both without question.
Having obtained his degree and upon his return, Lorenz joined John Keells Tea Department and began working as a Tea Broker. Always seen with a characteristic kerchief knotted round his neck on a cricket field, he turned out for the SSC once again, before giving up the game altogether – owing possibly to waning interest. Although his cricketing skills were munificent, it was at Rugby that he shone with spectacular success.
First ‘non-white’ Captain
Lorenz Pereira was a man of great charm and winsome ways. Given his pedigree, his panache and his awesome popularity within the sporting circuit, it came as no surprise when he was conferred the then highly prestigious membership of the C.C.C., CH & FC and the Gymkhana Club as one of the first Ceylonese to be accorded that honour. That was sometime in the early 1960s. He was also the first ‘non-white’ to captain C.C.C. and CH & FC at cricket and rugby football.
Even though he never captained his school at rugby, Lorenz captained the national rugby team while playing for the CH and FC. Playing alongside the likes of Omar Sheriff, John Burrows, Mike Davies, Maurice Marrinon, Y.C. Chang and Brian Baptist (to name but a few), he became an integral part of most CH sides in the 1960s and early 1970s. He would often thrill spectators with his raking runs, his brilliant side stepping and swerving; his selling of perfect dummies while accelerating into the space created, and leaving the opposition defense reeling in his wake. Outside the paddock he developed many social skills, not the least the ability to amuse, while delivering some outstanding after dinner speeches. That was a skill he would unfurl with great finesse and timing whenever the occasion demanded. But despite all that, not many heard him say until now that he had a direct hand in making Daya Sahabandu, the cricketer he turned out to be!
The spindly Daya Sahabandu
Daya Sahabandu began his cricket career at Royal as a spindly left arm in-swing bowler. He played only a few First XI games under Michael Wille’s captaincy in 1957 before he was dropped. Relieved he was no longer under Wille’s stringent leadership, Sahabandu played for the Second XI where he tried out and acquired a great liking for spin bowling. Playing under the more relaxed regime of Lorenz Pereira in 1958, Sahabandu employed both styles of bowling and met with much success. Having played in the Royal-Thomian of 1958, 1959 and 1960, Bandu won his cricket colours in each of those years, while opening the bowling and thereafter reverting to spin.
Bandu’s chief weapon was his awesome accuracy. The trick with his bowling was that he would adjust the flight of the delivery according to the state of the wicket. For instance, if he found he could extract more spin at a certain trajectory of delivery, he would make it his stock ball. From then on, he would tie up the batsman in knots, and finally commit him into error. He developed his ‘chinaman’ and the googly later on in his career while playing club cricket, but in the main during his schooldays, he was a ‘no frills’ left arm orthodox bowler of great consistency.
‘DH’ the mentor
Daya Sahabandu played under several captains in his time but it was under D.H. de Silva that he flowered out and achieved his best. ‘DH’ mentored him and was a great influence on Bandu’s personal progress during his playing years at Nomads. But try as he might, there was one aspect over which ‘DH’ could not wield any influence whatsoever over Bandu. That was the aspect of fielding – but more on that later.
To this day, Bandu considers ‘DH’ as the finest captain he played under. ‘DH’ was the Brian Close of Sri Lanka cricket. He was aggressive, up front and in your face. Not the most popular or best liked among those who knew him purely as an opponent, ‘DH’ carried a lot of cricket between his ears. Cricket to him was a thinking man’s game, and he lived his life for the sport – playing, thinking, analysing. He and Bandu were like peas in a pod; one doing the plotting and the other doing the executing. Having unerringly analysed each opposing player, ‘DH’ would – either from first slip or any bat-pad position – surreptitiously direct Bandu where he should be pitching next. Sometimes Bandu would open the bowling for Nomads and bowl quickish left arm orthodox. He had the ability to make some balls pop up more than others, and this kept the bat-pad fielders always interested. Even when well into his 40s, ‘DH’ would position himself at silly point or forward short leg and employ several others in brazenly attacking positions close to the bat, only because he had such an unshaken belief in Sahabandu’s unerring accuracy.
Often punching above their weight ….
In short, Bandu could pitch the ball on a 50 cent piece if he so wished. Once he had discovered the best trajectory to bowl, he was like a wound-up clockwork; faithfully trudging back to his bowling mark, turning and running in, and landing the leather exactly where his skipper wanted it, time after time. He repeated this routine like a mantra, never allowing himself to be flustered by any outside influence or distraction. If ‘DH’ was the Sri Lankan equivalent of Brian Close, Sahabandu was to Ceylon, what Underwood was to England. DH and Bandu were brilliant – even eccentric, and for sure, crankily cricket mad! If the wicket took spin or suggested the slightest trace of dampness, Sahabandu – be it with spin or seam – was near unplayable. It was grippingly entertaining spectacle, watching Nomads often punch above their weight and getting the better of more fancied teams with their tight cricket and cunning!
Could no longer be ignored ….
Bandu played his cricket at a time when athleticism and fielding excellence weren’t the most sought after attributes in players, when it came to selection. Despite that concession, it was generally agreed that Bandu ‘s ideal fielding position should be the remotest possible in the field, since placing him behind the sightscreen was not an option. Although his fielding skills remained static over the years, his skills with the ball continued to improve, particularly with the advent of Stanley Jayasinghe to Nomads in 1968 or thereabouts. Teaming up with D.H., Stanley helped Sahabandu raise his game by several notches, until it was no longer possible to ignore him for national service.
And so despite his near magical ability with the ball, It took Bandu all of two months short of 29th years to play his first match for Ceylon. That was in January 1969 when he represented the country in a 60 over game against a powerful MCC team. Not unsurprisingly Bandu returned the best bowling figures, capturing 3 for 35 off his allotted 12 overs against the likes of Edrich, Fletcher, Graveney, Cowdrey and D’Oliveira. Playing for Ceylon in the three day game which followed, Sahabandu again returned the best bowling figures for the Ceylonese, capturing 2 for 90 in 44.2 overs. His two scalps were the prized wickets of Tom Graveney and Keith Fletcher.
Next followed Ian Chappell’s Australians in Ceylon in 1970 (27-12-64-2 and 22-6-52-2), England in Ceylon in 1970 (23-12-33-1 and 37-15-86-5) and England in Sri Lanka in 1973 (16-5-42-0 and 14-4-24-0). Daya Sahabandu played his last game for his country in November 1975 while touring India.
A masterpiece in stonewalling ….
Of the three “Tests” that were played on that Indian tour of 1975, it was with the bat that Bandu grabbed the greatest attention. In the first “Test” at Hyderabad (Nov 8th – 11th) Bandu held up the Indian juggernaut of Madan Lal, Amarnath, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Prasanna, by batting till after tea on the final day and stalling what might have been a galloping innings defeat for his side. Going in as night watchman in the Sri Lankan 2nd innings the night before, Sahabandu held his end up for four hours and 16 minutes on the final day, with a rare exhibition of ‘stroke-less batting’. His marathon effort might not have been enough to save the game for his side, but it certainly went a long way towards helping Sri Lanka avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat, while prolonging the inevitable till the 2nd last over of the final day. His final representative game was the 3rd Test at Nagpur on 28th, 29th, 30th November, and 1st December 1975.
If Daya Sahabandu with the ball in hand was unquestionably a champion, his repute as a fieldsman as mentioned before, was nothing short of withering. Lorenz describes him as a total liability in the field, stating that if he were placed at wide third man at the start of an over, he would meander with no particular aim or direction, until he ended up at fine leg by the time the over ended! In short, Lorenz found that Bandu needed supervision and his fielding position set, not just once every over, but before each ball! Bandu’s legendary habit of loitering whilst being engrossed in a world of his own continued unabated throughout his playing career, much to the chagrin of many of his captains.
Bandu, the incomparable!
But perhaps the final word must remain with Mike Wille, captain of Royal in 1957 who is credited with this story. Royal were getting smashed at the hands of St Benedict’s when Neville Casiechetty ‘s scorching hit off a Bandu delivery was brilliantly caught at cover. As luck would have it the ball was deemed a ‘No ball’. On noticing the batsman at the non-striker’s end was yards out of his crease and having no chance of a safe return whatsoever, the fielder gently lobbed the ball back to Sahabandu, who had only to remove the bails to effect what would have been a run out by yards!
What Bandu did next must surely go down in the annals of cricket’s rich folklore, passed down the generations. Catching the ball that was gently lobbed back at him, Bandu turned, and with bowed head, simply walked back to his bowling mark, contemplating the infinite!
It must have been Mike Wille’s fitness and his youth, which saved him from suffering a midfield heart attack!
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