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Remarkable advancement in sports

by Dinesh Weerawansa

Sri Lanka has shown a remarkable advancement in the field of sports since gaining independence. Apart from the traditional games, there had been a few sports here before the independence. That too was at a comparatively less competition level and standard.

Arjuna Ranatunga

Sanath Jayasuriya

de Silva

But since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, our sports have gone from strength to strength and that we have been able to emerge champions at World level. One of the best achievements in Sri Lanka sports were achieved just the same year Sri Lanka gained independence.

Susanthika Jayasinghe

Sriyani Kulawansa


That came in the 1948 summer Olympic Games when Duncan White bagged a silver in men's 440 yards hurdles. White's silver was the first and the only medal Sri Lanka won at the Olympic Games until 2000 in which sprint queen Susanthika Jayasinghe won a bronze medal.

Mainly due to the influence of the British rule until 1948, the passion for cricket is evident not only in Sri Lanka but also the whole of subcontinent India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all former British colonies like ours. However the cricket went amongst the rural community in Sri Lanka with Sri Lanka gaining Test status in 1981 and more significantly, winning the World Cup in cricket 15 years later.

Sugath Tillakaratne and 
Damayanthi Darsha

Pushpamali Ramanayake and 
Mali Wickremasinghe

Winning the 1996 World Cup under Arjuna Ranatunga was one of the greatest ever achievements in Sri Lanka sports. Ranatunga was one of the top cricketers Sri Lanka has ever produced and his able leadership made way for Sri Lanka to crush favourites Australia by seven wickets in the final played in Lahore on March 17, 1996.

It was a red letter day for Sri Lanka sports with Aravinda de Silva and Asanka Gurusinha being the architects of that sweet success. Incidentally, Ranatunga took to politics after retirement and is now a popular parliamentarian of the People's Alliance from Gampaha District. Sri Lanka cricket passed many milestones under Ranatunga's leadership. Sri Lanka's first ever Test win was achieved in 1985, under Duleep Mendis, when they beat India by 149 runs at Sara Stadium. There have been many occasions that Sri Lanka won one day international cricket tournaments both here and abroad. They were equally successful in Test cricket and were rated world No.3 a few years ago. Sri Lanka team accounts for the highest ever totals in both Test cricket (952) and one day international (398) cricket, a feat which would be hard to beat.



Nagalingam Ediriweerasingham

In the early 70s, Sri Lanka produced its first ever world champion in individual sport. That was when the late M.J.M. Lafir emerged world champion in billiards.

Sri Lankan Susanthika Jayasinghe's success in women's 200m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in Australia could probably be the greatest ever achievement in local sports, considering the top level competition she had and the number of over 200 countries taking part at the world's greatest sporting event.

Jayasinghe's bronze here was Sri Lanka's first Olympic medal in 52 years and came only three years after she won women's 200m silver medal at the 1997 IAAF World Championships in Athens. Immediately after the Olympic triumph, Jayasinghe was rated No.3 in IAAF women's world rankings.

In track and field, Sri Lanka has been one of the notable forces in Asia. Sri Lankans showed their class on many occasions at the Asian Games. But the most notable performance in the past came in 1974 Teheran Asian Games in which Sri Lanka's W. Wimaladasa emerged undisputed sprint king, winning gold medals in men's 400m and 4 x 400m relay.

But the first Sri Lankan gold medallist at Asian Games was high jumper Nagalingam Ediriweerasingham in 1956. In 1970 S.L.B. Rosa won a long distance gold for Sri Lanka. There had been a lean patch at Asian Games for Sri Lanka until Sriyantha Dissanayake broke the hoodoo and made a revolution in Sri Lanka athletics, winning a silver and a bronze in Beijing, 1990. But it was Damayanthi Darsha who ended the gold drought for 24 years when she bagged two gold medals in women's 200m and 400m at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998. At the same event, Sugath Tillakaratne won men's 400m gold and 200m bronze.

Sprinter Darsha has been the most successful ever Sri Lankan athlete in Asian Games history winning three gold medals and a bronze. Her fourth Asian Games medal, after the first in 1994 Hiroshima, came in Busan 2002 when she accounted for women's 400m gold. Susanthika Jayasinghe won her first Asian Games gold in Busan in women's 100m but missed a possible second in 200m due to an injury.

Sri Lanka's first gold medal at a major sporting event was by Hendricus in 1938 Empire Games, ten years before the independence. At the 1950 Empire Games, Duncan White won another gold for Sri Lanka in his pet event.

Apart from cricket and athletics, shooting has been one of Sri Lanka's successful sport in international arena. Sri Lanka's first ever gold medal at Commonwealth Games was won by our leading women shooters Pushpamali Ramanayake and Mali Wickremasinghe in 1994. Four years later, hurdler Sriyani Kulawansa won women's 100m hurdles silver medal at 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Sri Lanka has emerged champions at Asia Cup netball tournament twice and has shown a reasonable form in international arena. In 1995 Sri Lanka won the SAARC Gold Cup soccer tournament, beating India. Sri Lanka has done well in tennis, especially our junior players have shown great form and have come out with success in number of international tournaments.

Sri Lanka's best show in swimming came at the 1991 SAF Games in which Julian Bolling and Deepika Chanmugam made a clean sweet with a rich harvest of gold medals. Their performance was coupled with the success of our athletes as hosts Sri Lanka won a record number of 44 gold medals at the 1991 SAF Games in Colombo. Sri Lanka has fared reasonably well in boxing, badminton and a few other sports but they have not been able to go beyond Asian level.

Overall, Sri Lanka could be proud of what they have achieved in the field of sports, considering the facilities, coaches, infrastructure, population and modern training facilities they have. If we develop these factors, our sportsmen and women should be able to bring more glory.

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