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Neil Weerasinghe – Legend of athletics

23 November 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Neil Weerasinghe, the unsung hero in athletics of the late ’30s and early ’40s, passed away in 2009 at the age of 90. Born on May 5, 1919, he resided in 4th  Lane, Ratmalana with his family. His wife Lorna passed away in 2013. They had a family of six children who excelled in sports following the footsteps of their father. Neil was a colleague of mine having worked together in the Excise Department.   

 

 He was selected to represent Sri  Lanka at the Indo-Ceylon Athletic Meet and came third in the 50 meters event

 

As a student at Dharmaraja College in Kandy, during the Messrs. B. Billimoria-Metthanada era, he spent more time in the field than in classroom and brought laurels to college at annual inter-school athletic meets. The college authorities knew that if Neil was not in class, he would be at the ground training by himself. He used to recall the times he was running around the Kandy  Lake every evening and meeting that great athlete Duncan White himself jogging and the words of advice received. But unforgettable is the advice and instructions received from well-known Trinitian Philip Buultjens who, on his own, watched Neil training and corrected the stride to improve long-distance running on many occasions. 


At the all-island public schools athletics meet in 1938, Neil came first in the one mile event. That same year, at the CCB camp in Diyatalawa, as a Cadet, he came first in the cross-country race defeating 144 participants and was awarded colours by Diyatalawa Camp Commandant Colonel Pakeman. The following year too, he came first in the same event at the CCB camp in Diyatalawa, defeating cadets from all schools that took part and was again awarded athletics colours by new Commandant Colonel Patrick. At the all-island amateur athletic championship held at Police Ground the same year, he took part as a schoolboy and came second in the three mile event and third in the one mile event. In 1940 – still as a school boy – he came first in the three mile event at the all-island amateur athletic championship. He was selected to represent Sri  Lanka at the Indo-Ceylon Athletic Meet and came third in the 50 meters event. 

 

He devoted his spare time to athletics and his crowning glory came in 1944 when he represented the Excise Dept. at the Government Services Athletic Championship

 

It was then that top Indian overseas civil servant S.H. Wadia held the post of Excise Commissioner and seeing his performance invited Neil to join the department as a Probationary Inspector. He devoted his spare time to athletics and his crowning glory came in 1944 when he represented the Excise Department at the Government Services Athletic Championship. He came first in the half mile, one mile and three mile events. In the 440 yards hurdles, he came second. Because of his unprecedented achievement, he was awarded the G.K. Thornhill Challenge Cup as the most outstanding athlete at the meet. With the departure of that great sports promoter, Commissioner S.H. Wadia to India, the department’s interest in sports gradually declined and Neil Weerasinghe happened to be the last officer to win the G.K. Thornhill Cup to date. Perseverance and dedication to a cause were key to his success in athletics. 


Having retired from the department as a Superintendent, he did a tour abroad on the invitation of his children but decided to settle down in the land of his birth that gave him the inspiration and determination to be a legend of the time. 
V. Rajapakse, 
Kandy 

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