Remembering the legends:
Duncan White - the greatest Sri Lankan athlete
It is time to remember athletes who brought honour and glory to Sri
Lanka and it is for this purpose that Dialog Telekom in collaboration
with the Ministry of Sports and Pubic Recreation pays tribute to over
200 athletes in over 15 disciplines on July 15 at the BMICH.
Dialog Telekom has been a prominent sponsor of Sri Lankan Sports and
is committed to developing talent in Sri Lanka to international
The Company is closely associated with Football, Athletics, Cricket,
Volleyball, Rugby, Disabled Sports, School Rowing, Schools Cricket and
has sponsored national contingents to international events including the
Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth, Asian, SAF and FESPIC Games.
Duncan White is undoubtedly the most outstanding male athlete
produced by Sri Lanka with his silver medal at the 1948 London Olympic
Games remained as the only Olympic medal for the country for 52 years.
Duncan White was born on March 1, 1918 at Lathpandura near Kalutara,
in the then British-ruled Ceylon, as the second of four children of John
Bernard White and Cecilia Hawk White.
He learnt the basics in athletics at Trinity College Kandy where he
was awarded the prestigious 'Trinity Lion' for athletics but was
subsequently withdrawn from him due to minor disciplinary reasons.
Duncan White joined the Ceylon Light Infantry after leaving school
and left the Army five years later in November 1947. He won his Olympic
medal in the 400 metres hurdles the same year Ceylon gained independence
His success in the Olympics was a tremendous achievement considering
the fact that he had trained for only about three months before the
games. White won four of the five events he entered at the trials to
pick the team for Olympics and was named the Captain of the Ceylon team.
Duncan White recalled his Olympic experience later. "The next day the
call came for me to take part in the heats of the 400m hurdles. Before
the heat commenced, I had assured myself that I could run as well or
even better than any of my opponents regardless where they came from.
I won my heat with ease and looked back and eased up nearing the
finish. I returned the best time out of six heats. The finals were held
the following day and I was somewhat disappointed that I had to compete
in lane five.
However, I made up my mind that I would beat whoever was in the lane
outside me when reaching the first hurdle, thus gaining the confidence
that I would be ahead of former World Record Holder, Larson of Sweden.
The official Olympic report commented "White went off at a terrific
pace". There was a change in the way I strode when reaching the seventh
hurdle and this allowed Cochran of USA to take the lead.
Cochran went on to win the event with a new Olympic record. I too
bettered the previous record by two seconds".
White's time for the event which was 51.8 seconds, was only 0.7
seconds behind Cochran who had in fact trained for the event for more
than four years. Thereafter it took a further 52 years for another Sri
Lankan athlete to grace the podium at an Olympic awards ceremony.
Duncan White has been honoured with many tributes and awards
including the Member of the British Empire (MBE), Helms World Trophy for
the "Most Outstanding Athlete" in Asia and the National Heroes Award of
After the Olympic victory, White was welcomed at a ceremony at
Trinity College and was honoured by returning his 'Lion'. Making a
speech at the special assembly, White stated that although his victory
at the Olympics was prestigious the 'Lion' made him feel more honoured
In the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand, White
produced a fine performance and won the 440 yard hurdles, only 0.3
seconds behind the world record. Duncan White moved to England where he
spent the latter part of his life and died on July 3, 1998 in