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Sumith Liyanage Olympian - Black Panther

by Premasara Epasinghe

The reigning European Featherweight Boxing Champion Jerzi Adamsky was on the floor. Ceylon's Boxer Sumith Liyanage, well known to then Sri Lankan fans as "Black Panther," was standing over the fallen adversary. It was 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. A straight one-two punches and a right cross had given Liyanage a moments of dominance over Adamsky when he felled his opponent.

Liyanage was in cloud nine. He had hats in the air feeling. At the end, Liyanage lost by narrow points decision.

"Premasara, when I dropped the Poland Boxer Adamsky, I became over confident. I was little careless. I did not connect my punches properly. I missed quite a few of them. He fought on. I lost by a mere whisker. I burst into tears in the dressing room as I could not record a win for Sri Lanka" recalls Liyanage, recreating the Olympic glory that eluded him.

Even today, Sumith Liyanage regrets that moment of exuberance. Sri Lankan Boxing Judge Danton Obeysekera, who was a keen spectator by the ringside, complimented Liyanage on his stunning performance.

The Sri Lankan contingent for the 1960 Rome Olympics consisted of Linus Dias (Captain-Athletics), Maurice Coomaravel (Cycling), Tony Williams (Swimming), W.A. Dharmasiri and Sumith Liyanage (Boxing). The Manager of the team was Darley Ingleton.

World Champion Cassius Clay, as an Amateur, won the Gold Medal at this Olympics in Rome in 1960, beating his opponent in the Light Middle Weight Bout.

"I had the good fortune and privileged of fighting in the Plazyat. Delo Sports Complex Boxing Ring, where Cassius Clay fought. He fought in the Light Middle Weight, where as, I fought in the feather weight. Luckily for me, I did not meet him in the Ring. I am sure, if I met him, he would have remained Cassius and I would have been reduced to Clay" Sumith stated in lighter vein.

I still remember the day I first met him. He joined us in Grade 9 at Nalande. Our beloved Vice Principal and English Teacher late Mr. W.D.E. Perera, was conducting a lesson from "Tale of Two Cities," when he walked into our class and sat next to me. This was way back in 1954. From that day onwards, we remain best of friends. Exactly half a century ago.

Liyanage joined Nalanda leaving Ananda. He represented Ananda in the stubbs shield and won his bouts in 1952 and 1953. He won his weight at the ABA Junior Championship and ABA Intermediate Meet. Again in 1955, he won the stubbs shield in 1956 and 1957, representing Nalanda.

Sumith Liyanage won his first National Title in 1956 as a schoolboy. Further, in 1957, he won the Feather Weight Title and represented Ceylon in the South East Asian Championship.

While at Ananda, he boxed for Sinha Amateur Boxing Club. He was trained by late D.C.A. Wickramasinghe. Others who helped him to blossom in his Boxing career, were the famous boxing duo - H.P. & C.P. Jayasuriya Brothers. He wanted to emulate these two great boxers.

Sumith Liyanage hails from a highly respectable family. His father Sam P. Liyanage, was a man for all seasons. He served the Postal Department with distinction. He was a fine artist, dramatist and an actor. In 1920s, he acted in a drama "Sri Wickramarajasinghe," at the Henarathgoda Gardens, Gampaha W.P. Young D.S. Senanayake, who became the First Prime Minister of Ceylon in 1947, played the lead role as the king. Liyanage acted as a Minister. In 1950, he played the lead role in "Vessantara".

Sam Liyanage became famous in 1960s, in the film Saravita as Pappamahattaya. Sumith's beloved mother Mrs. Lilian Liyanage was, a teacher at Musaeus College and a leading social worker.

Sumith Liyanage has four brothers and a sister. They are Dr. Pandu Liyanage, Jay Liyanage (United States), Kithsiri Liyanage, Lakshman Liyanage (England). Sister's name is Rukmani. They are a closely knit family.

Fiery opening bowler

Sumith and I played cricket for Nalanda in the 1950s. He was a fine opening bowler and a hard hitting batsman. He tormented many a batsmen as a right arm pace-man in his school career.

After leaving school Nalanda, he joined the Police as a Sub-Inspector in 1958 and retired as a Deputy Inspector General of Police on 24th June 1996.

Honest - Bold-Fearless Officer

He was a highly respected Police Officer always honest, bold and fearless. As a young Sub-Inspector recruit, he was always on the look out for action. He was assigned to Dematagoda Police Station, at that time. Then, the phone jangled. It was a tip-off: there was gambling going on in a certain house in Maligawatta. Sumith rushed to the scene with three constables. There were three exit in this house. At each point, a constable was planted. Sumith stood by the main entrance. Then, he shouted. "Stop. All of you are under arrest." This scene was somewhat like the famous "Nainage Suduwa of John Kotalawala" fame. The leader of the gambling den exploded "You bloody, young Inspector. You do not know who I am. No one ever tried tricks with me. I will teach you a good lesson."

He picked a crowbar and rushed to attack Sumith. It was a matter of life and death. Sumith went into action quickly. Before the bar was brought down, Sumith gave him a powerful straight punch and a upper cut and the victim was floored. All of them were arrested.

Liyanage - Mahagedera clash

I wish to mention here, a memorable incident in my journalistic career. Woven round Sumith. At that time, I was a University Undergraduate and a cub-reporter attached to Daily News Sports Desk. I had the "Baptism in Sports Journalism" under such great men like late M.M. Thawfeeq (Beloved father of Saadi Thawfeeq), Carlton Seneviratne, and Christie Seneviratne. They were legends. I am ever-grateful to them. I consider them as my "Gurus" in Sports Journalism.

Carlton and MMT assigned me to cover the Clifford Cup Boxing Meet in the late 1960s.

"Premasara, your buddy, Sumith will be in action today at the YMCA ring, after Rome Olympics. Cover it. You are the ideal person for this assignment."

Sumith walked in-cheers allround for the Olympian. He got into the ring majestically. On the back of his white dressing gown - Sumith Liyanage - Olympic Games Rome 1960 was printed in bold letters in black.

On the Blue corner sat on unknown Boxer, sans shoes. Public address system made an announcement -

Red corner - Sumith Liyanage.

Blue corner - P.C. Mahagedera.

The fight commenced. In the first-round, Mahagedera, attacked Liyanage. After the end of a gruelling fight, police constable Mahagedera won by a narrow point decision beating Sumith Liyanage the Olympic Boxer.

I was shaken to witness my close friend losing the bout. I wrote the copy and gave it to the Sports Editor Carton Seneviratne. He discussed with me for a catchy headline. If my memory serves right, I gave the headline -

"Constable humbles Olympic rival".

This was the lead in the following days Daily News Sports Page with a picture of the bout. Captured by the famous photographer Vincent Weerasekera.

Liyanage - Mahagedera return bout

Liyanage - Mahagedera return bout, after two weeks, was a much looked forward to. Sumith Liyanage got the opportunity of meeting Mahagedera at the Indo-Pakistan Meet, which was the Nationals. Mahagedera- Liyanage fight was in the Preliminary Round. It was held at the Bambalapitiya Stadium. Thousands flocked to see their fight. Carnival atmosphere prevailed.

Most Scientific Boxer

Sumith Liyanage - the most scientific boxer at that time, with all his experience, boxing skills and craft out boxed Mahagedera and beat him convincingly in the return bout.

Sumith Liyanage had the proud distinction of beating the Champion Indian Boxer Percy Kathan and the Pakistan orthodox Boxer Gulham Sarwar later.

Another boxer who shone during this time was Malcolm Bluner of St. Sylvester's College, Kandy.

Unassuming Sumith Liyanage, was a charming, pleasant personality. He was a fine gentleman.

Talented singer

He was not only a versatile sportsman, but also a talented singer.

I still remember when we travel for outstation cricket matches, to play Dharmaraja and Mahinda, he melodiously sing his favourite number "Mawila - Penevi Rupe Hade - Dharshanani Sobha" (Kela Handa - Rukmani Devi), "Selalihini Kovul" (C.T. Fernando), "Olu - Nelum Neriya Rangala" (Rekawa - Sisira Senaratne). These were his favourite numbers. He entertains the entire team. He was always a great team man and a gutty player.

Administer - par-excellence

After hanging his gloves, he took upto Boxing Administration and served as the Vice President of the ABA. Further, he served as a Manager of the Sri Lanka Boxing Team on many occasions.

Outstanding marksman

Sumith Liyanage was an outstanding marksman of Sri Lanka. He won laurels as a leading marksman and a coach.

Clementine - wind behind his wings

His beloved wife Clementine, is the wind behind his wings. They have a son and two daughters. Following the footsteps of his illustrious father, his son was a National Champion in shooting and won a silver medal in the SAF Games in 1991. Their two daughters are Duvithri and Manique.

General Manager -Security Paints and General Company Ltd.

Former Deputy Inspector General of Police Sumith Liyange, is presently the General Manager of Security at a leading mercantile firm - Paints and General Industries Limited. What really matters is he still boxes on - whatever the field.

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