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Remembering the country’s first Olympic medallist Duncan White



Duncan White preparing the starting blocks.



During this Olympic year it is pertinent to remember one of country’s greatest athletes Major Duncan White on his 23rd death anniversary (July 3). On his way to success, he had to glide over 10 barriers and not break them!

Duncan White was born on the 1st of March 1918 at Lathpandura a rural village 2km from Baduraliya in the Kalutara District

His early education was at Trinity College Kandy. He was the captain of athletics in 1936 when Trinity College won the John Tarbat Challenge cup and the Jefferson cup for the Relays. White won the 220yds establishing a new record, 120yds Hurdles and the Long Jump. He was a member of the Trinity Rugger team which won the Bradby trophy. He was awarded the Trinity Lion for Athletics

On leaving Trinity College, he joined the Medical Department as a Physical Training Instructor and represented the Department at the Government Services Meet. In 1937 he participated in the National Championships representing Ace Athletic Club he returned a time of 52.0 secs in September and further improved it to 50.4secs the same year. Running in the 440 yds Hurdles event he clocked 56.4 secs. In 1940 he returned a time of 56.0 secs in the 440yds Hurdle event at the National Championships. It took 20 long years to improve the record till Nimal Fernando of the CT & FC returned a time of 55.7 secs. In 1944 running for the Ceylon Army Duncan clocked 22.2 secs for the 200m, which was equalled by W. Wimaladasa of the Army in 1964. D.K Podimahathmaya had the privilege of erasing Duncan’s record of 22.2 by .1 of a second after 24 years.

In 1938 he represented Ceylon at the British Empire Games held in Sydney in 1938. He was the only schoolboy in the team. He represented Ceylon at the first Indo-Ceylon dual meet held in Colombo in 1940 and at the second Indo-Ceylon Meet held in Bangalore. At the first Indo-Ceylon Meet he won gold medals in the 400m and 400m Hurdles events and helped win the two relays. In Bangalore he won a gold medal in the 400m hurdles and won a silver in the 110m hurdles.

After breaking records in the National arena he turned to the wider International arena. He was a member of the first Ceylon team to an Olympic Games. That was the 1948 London Olympic Games. There was a special significance for Ceylon as it was in the year 1948 that we gained Independence from the British Empire. Duncan White won the silver medal beaten by Roy Cochran of USA by only 7/10th of a second. While Cochran established an Olympic Games Record, Duncan White too bettered the previous record.

On the strength of his performance at the Olympic Games he was awarded a Government Scholarship to follow a course in Physical Education at the prestigious Loughborough College of Physical Education. At Loughborough, he Captained the College for three consecutive years. During his period the College won the British University Athletics Championships.

At the 1950 British Empire Games held in Auckland, New Zealand Duncan White won the gold medal in the 440yds hurdles event with a new British Empire Games Record which was only 3/5th of a second outside the World record.

On completing his studies at Loughborough College he returned to Ceylon in 1951, took up the post of a lecturer at the Training College Maharagama. In 1960 he took up the post of Athletic coach for the schools of the Department of Education with the approval of the then Minister of Education E.A. Nugawela.

He did yeoman’s service to the young athletes of the schools, especially the Central Schools. R.A.C. Hubert of Piliyandala Madya Maha Vidyalaya was one such athlete who did well in the 400m. I am personally aware that he had gone to Gamini Vidyalaya Benthota on three occasions. He also had helped Harris Manikkam at the Christian College Kotte athletic camps. There he had screened his final run in the 400m Hurdles at the 1948 London Olympics. C.W. Pitigala as a sharp student at that time had asked Duncan why he had looked back while fixing the blocks. He had commented on his observant nature and answered. “when I was nailing my starting blocks someone had shouted “Hey Ceylon you are late” So he had turn back and said “shut up” and nailed his blocks. While nailing the blocks he injured his finger. He ignored the injury and concentrated on the event. And the rest was history. It is a good lesson for our young athletes not to get ruffled for the slightest thing at the start of an event.

In 1964, he left for Nigeria to take up the post of Senior Lecturer in Athletics at the University of Ibadu. Later he settled down in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

Duncan White was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1949 and the Helms World Trophy as the Most Outstanding Athlete in Asia.

Duncan White married Angela Siebel and they had six children Nita, Marilene, Fiona, Daniel, Maxine and Christopher.

His teammates to the British Empire Games held in Auckland New Zealand said that when Duncan White ran the last lap for Sri Lanka in the 4x400m Relay the whole stadium stood up and cheered him because it was a fantastic run. He had overtaken several runners and came fourth. Several officials had asked him why he had not entered for the 400m event.

Late Cyril Gardiner, the then chairman of the prestigious Galle Face Hotel, as a mark of respect to Duncan White adorned his name on a plaque at the entrance to the Galle Face Hotel as a distinguished guest of the Hotel. It was at this Hotel that I had the privilege of meeting the great man on his last visit to Sri Lanka.

In 1991 Major-General Denzil Kobbekaduwa had organized a Peace Relay Run from Vavuniya to Colombo to celebrate the founding of the Duncan White Foundation. When the runners who came to Kurunegala were given T shirts with the Duncan White Logo embossed. One runner while putting on the T shirt had asked another “kawdayako Duncan kiyanne.”

In 1996 the late Luxman Kadirigamar initiated and obtained dual citizenship for Duncan White.

Duncan White was conferred the honour of ‘Deshamanya’ by President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Silver Medal feat at the London Olympic Games.

K.L.F. Wijedasa

(The writer is a former national record holder of the men’s 100 metres)



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Making Olympic dream a reality



After Duncan White won an Olympic medal in 1948 in London, Sri Lanka had to wait for 52 years to end their medal drought. Susanthika Jayasinghe in Sydney in 2000 became the second Sri Lankan to win a medal.

by Rex Clementine

After Duncan White won the nation’s first Olympic medal in London, it took Sri Lanka 52 years to win their second Olympic medal in Sydney. If you believe in law of averages, our next medal should come somewhere in 2052. If you are over the age of 40 now, there is a good chance that you would be dead by the time the nation wins the next medal in Olympics. But then, there’s also something called if there’s a will there’s a way.

Perhaps, you don’t have to wait for as many as 52 years to win an Olympic medal if you can come across a genius like Susanthika. It is a well documented fact that she was a rare talent and she was destined for greatness from the moment her skills were spotted as a teenager. All what you need is someone with immense skill to break all the barriers and she remains an inspiration to millions of Sri Lankans.

But you tend to remember Arjuna’s words. Some players come along once in 50 years; Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan are the examples that he gives. The same is true with Susanthika.

However, some countries seem to be doing it with limited resources. Look at New Zealand. Despite a population of five million, they are among the top ten in the medals tally having already won six golds. Well, they have the sporting infrastructure, one may say. Fine, but what about Philippines, a developing country like us. They have already won two medals including a gold. Well, they have over 100 million population another may say. Then what about Cuba? With a population less than us (11 million), and an economy not so great, they have so far claimed 11 medals including four golds! Fabulous.

What prevents our athletes from reaching greater heights is an interesting question our readers may ask. One of the main issues that sportsmen in our country face is that the games they play are not professional. Except for cricket, all other sportsmen are amateurs. A good majority of them, thanks to their sporting skills find employment in the private sector and then instead of fine tuning their sporting skills, they do 8 – 5 jobs as business establishments are under pressure to perform constantly.

Businessmen who loved sports like Rienzie T. Wijetilleke, Hemaka Amarasuriya and late R. Rajamahendran are a rare breed who wanted their employees to train morning and evening and told them not to turn up for work. They will of course have an axe to grind if their sports stars didn’t perform up to expectations.

This is where the Sports Ministry needs to step in. Usually, the Ministry steps three months prior to a competition requests mercantile establishments to free the athletes to compete in global competitions. But sportsmen and women in other parts of the world are training six hours a day on a daily basis for four years.

Is there any possibility that the Sports Ministry identifies around five sports where there are medal prospects – ideally individual sports – and then offer these athletes annual contracts and ask them to train without worrying about earning a living. Surely, it’s not going to cost them an arm and a leg.

There’s three years for the next Olympics and with expertise coaching, the nation can have some hope of not waiting for half a century to win an Olympic medal. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

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How lending a bat to Murali landed Flintoff in trouble



Muttiah Muralitharan and Andrew Flintoff were team mates at Lancashire. During a tour of Sri Lanka in 2003, Flitnoff lends one of his bats to Murali, a gesture that would get him in trouble with England hierarchy.

by Rex Clementine

Spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan is a fiercest competitor in cricket, but he is also known for his friendly nature. He is hugely popular among both team mates and opponents. You would hardly come across someone who has something nasty to say about Murali; it’s like finding a needle in haystack. Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya gifting a bat to his Sri Lankan counterpart Chamika Karunaratne made headlines both here and across the Palk Strait. However, much before this, England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff lending Murali a bat made headlines.

Murali and Andrew Flintoff were great mates. They were team-mates at Old Trafford when Murali was Lancashire’s overseas signing.

In 2003, when England came to Colombo for their winter tour, Flintoff was a rising star. Three years later he would go onto become England captain. In his book ‘Second Innings’, Flintoff recalls his camaraderie with Murali.

“In that series, it panned out that I wasn’t bowling too much short stuff at Murali and he wasn’t bowling too many doosras at me. Which was a bit naughty, I can see that. I’d had dinner with him the night before one match. Murali said, ‘Fred, I haven’t got any bats left. Can I borrow one of yours?’ It was a bit tricky because Nasser Hussein had put a ban on us even talking to Murali. We were supposed to be freezing him out,” Flintoff recalls.

“Murali tried again on the morning of the match, asking for a word. Nasser was glaring at me from a distance, clearly very unhappy. So I said to Murali as quickly as possible, ‘When we go out to field, go into the England dressing room. Just nip in the back door and take one of my bats – but keep the whole thing under your hat.’

“Once the match was under way and we took a few Sri Lankan wickets, Nasser brought me on to bowl out the tail, as was the plan in those days. Out strides Murali, carrying my bat. Nasser, meanwhile, talks me through the plan. ‘I want you to go at him. Short stuff.’

“Hmm. Tricky one this, on lots of levels, especially given the status of bouncers and doosras for me and Murali.

‘Nasser, I think I can get a yorker through him, nice and full will do the job here,’ Flintoff tells Hussein.

But he doesn’t get an approval. ‘No, I just told you,’ Hussein says. ‘I want you to go at him.’

Flintoff doesn’t sour his relationship with Murali. So he decides to pin Sri Lanka’s number 11 with a yorker instead of a bouncer. ‘No, I’m going to try and bowl him. Hit the stumps. Job done,’ he tells himself.

“So, I ran in, trying to bowl a yorker, directly against instructions. Didn’t get through. In fact, it found the middle of the bat, my bat – good middle it had, too.”

“Nasser threw all his toys out of the pram. I was taken off. Then Murali started charging the other bowlers, smashing them.

“After one huge six, Murali walks between me and Nasser at the change of ends. I can see Nasser ready to explode. Murali has a huge grin on his face: ‘F****** good bat, Freddie.”

Sri Lanka won the match by an innings and 225 runs to seal the series. Any guesses about Player of the Series; Muttiah Muralitharan.

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Suresh who captained Thomians to President’s Trophy triumph passes away



The Thomians won the inaugural President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney under Suresh Goonesekere’s captaincy

Former S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia cricketer Suresh Goonesekere who was the captain when the school won the Inaugural President’s Trophy passed away. He was living in the UK.

The S. Thomas’ Sports officials said that Goonesekere will always be remembered as a very good sportsman who brought honour to the school.

A batting opener Goonesekere played in the S. Thomas’ First XI team from 1990 to 1992, captaining the team in his last year. The names of both Suresh Goonesekere and his father P.N.W. Goonesekere are etched in the Battle of the Blues Big Match history.

The Thomians won when P.N.W. Goonesekere captained the team in 1964. When Suresh Goonesekere captained the school in 1992 the Thomians amassed massive 328 for nine wickets and restricted Royal to 145 runs in the first innings. While Royal had scored over 300 runs previously, it was the first time the Thomians had scored over 300 runs in the historic Battle of the Blues.

The Thomians were the winners of the Inaugurai President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney when Goonesekere skippered team beat Ananda in the final in 1992.

Goonesekere also played for SSC in the Division I tournament.

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