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Sports striving for greater heights after Independence

President Rajapaksa at the opening of the new sports complex at Diyagama, Homagama

Sri Lankan sportsmen and sportswomen made vast strides since the independence and went on to make their presence felt in some of the biggest sporting events in the International scene.

From Duncan White to Susanthika Jayasinghe, from Muhammad Lafir to Arjuna Ranatunga, the agony and the ecstasy has continued for over 62 years as the island nation emerged as one of the greatest and popular sporting destinations in the region.

From the moment Duncan White set the pace with the first ever medal in the 1948 London Olympic Games the Lion Flag has always emerged as a symbol of excellence in every corner of the World.

Muttiah Muralitharan

The celebrations have continued through Tehran in the Middle East to Tokyo, Japan and through the sub continent in Mumbai and Lahore while making further headway in the Caribbean and moving down under to Sydney, Australia.

If Duncan White was able to bring Sri Lanka its first ever medal in the 1948 London Olympic Games then cueist Muhammad Junaid Muhammad Lafir created history by becoming the country’s first World champion in any sport.

The Sri Lanka cricket team under the captaincy of legendary Arjuna Ranatunga then performed the near impossibility when they lifted the 1996 ICC Wills World Cup on a glorious night at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan.

The Lankans not only emerged as the undisputed champions but they also revolutionized the art of batting through the combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana.

Sri Lanka came close of repeating that performance in 2007 in the Caribbean under Mahela Jayawardena and was also the runners up at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in England under Kumar Sangakkara.

These are some of the most memorable occasions where the country will always cherish after they had gained ICC Test Status in 1981. And since then Sri Lanka have never looked back as they made steady progress until they had produced another World champion in the form of Muttiah Muralitharan.

The champion off-spinner is the proud holder of two individual cricketing World records and is still going strong having emerged as the highest wicket taker in Tests and one day internationals.

Even then the best ever individual performance probably came from Muhammad Lafir who was able to bring a great amount of glory and honour to the motherland despite the trying circumstances and the mounting pressure on his career.

Came 1973, the year of sheer magic when the World Amateur Billiards Championships was held in Bombay, India. Lafir was at his peak form as he demolished a host of strong contenders from England, Australia, Malta, Wales, India, New Zealand and Scotland.

Lafir not only emerged as the undisputed World champion but he also made the highest break of 859 in 47 minutes and 49 seconds while overcoming India’s number one and the favourite for the title Satish Mohan in the final.

Meanwhile fifty two years after Duncan White had won the silver medal in the men’s 400 metres hurdles Susanthika Jayasinghe stole the limelight by winning a silver medal in the women’s 200 metres sprint event at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Born to a poor family in Atnawala, a poverty-stricken village near Warakapola, Jayasinghe like most sportsmen and women from underdeveloped countries, had to overcome many difficulties in order to pursue a professional sporting career.

The lack of basic facilities and scientific training methods prevent most athletes from Asia and Africa from competing in international sporting events let alone winning Olympic medals.

Incidentally of the 199 countries that participated at the Sydney Olympics, 80 won no medals.

Before that the Sri Lanka men’s relay team comprising of Sunil Gunawardena, Kosala Sahabandu, Premachandra and Wimaladasa put up a stunning performance to snatch the gold medal at the Asian Games in Tehran while Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam took the gold medal in the men’s high jump in Tokyo.

In fact it was Ethirveerasingam who won Sri Lanka’s first Asian Games gold medal in 1958. He went on to represent Sri Lanka in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games and three Asian Games.

Duncan White’s fact file

Full name: Duncan White
Born: March 1, 1918, Kalutara
Parents: John Bernard White and Cecilia Hawk White
Wife: Angela White
School attended: Trinity College
Event participated: 400 metres hurdles
Best timing: 51.8 seconds
Land marks: Silver medal Olympic Games,
London 1948 and Gold medal 440 yards hurdles at Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand, 1950
Special achievements: Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1949

Susanthika Jayasinghe’s fact file

Full Name: M. Susanthika Jayasinghe
Date of Birth: 17 December 1975
Events: 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay
Personal Best: 100m - 11.04 seconds (Yokohoma Japan) and 200m - 22.28 seconds (Sydney, Australia)
Susanthika Jayasinghe’s performances at a glance

Year Championship Result Event
1994 Asian Games 2nd 200 m
1997 IAAF Meet 2nd 200 m
2000 Olympics 2nd 200 m
2002 IAAF Meet 3rd 100 m
2002 Asian Meet 1st 100 m
2002 Asian Meet 1st 200 m
2004 SAF Games 1st 200 m
2006 SA Games 1st 100 m
2006 SA Games 1st 200 m

Muhammad Lafir’s Records at a glance:

18 times Sri Lanka snooker champion
17 times Sri Lanka billiards champion
Twice runner-up in World Billiards Championships in 1967 and 1969
World champion in 1973 in Bombay
Fourth in World Billiards in 1971
Eight times All India snooker champion Once All India Billiards Champion in 1978
5 times Western India snooker champion
Semifinalist in World Snooker championships in 1970 in Scotland
3rd in the Inaugural World Snooker championships 1963

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