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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 standards.

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at Trinity College Kandy where he was awarded the prestigious 'Trinity Lion' for athletics but was subsequently withdrawn from him due to minor disciplinary reasons.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 from Britain.

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.

Confidence

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 Deshamanya.

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 than that.

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 Warwickshire, England.

 

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