On March 1, 1998 Duncan White, accompanied by his wife Ansela made a
special trip from his home in England to present the Duncan White Sports
Foundation Award to Susanthika Jayasinghe. As events proved later, it
was a moment that foreshadowed the future. It was a moment when a past
olympic winner unknowingly was awarding a future olympic winner. It was
a moment when the Olympic baton was passed on to another generation of
athletes. There wasn’t a better person to pass on that glorious
tradition than Duncan White.
Duncan White, MBE, ED, DLC.M.INST. AM. was the first Sri Lankan to
win an Olympic medal. His road to Olympics too was not paved with gold.
Though he was born into a middle-class family it was a hard battle for
his father, an apothecary at Matugama to pay the school fees of his son
at Trinity College, one of the leading educational institutions of Sri
In fact Duncan White found it difficult to even buy a pair of running
shoes. In those days there were no sports foundations to pick up the
bills of promising sportsmen. But in the fiery spirit of winners he was
not put off by such shortcomings. His hour of glory came in 1948 when he
sailed across 400 metres of hurdles with a timing of 51.8 secs in the
XIVth olympiad held in London.
The report of the 1948 London Olympic Games records Whites’ 400
metres Mens Hurdles Events as follows: “In the final Cochran was in the
third lane, White of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) in the fifth
and Larsson of Sweden on the outside.
White went off at a terrific pace but by walf distance Cochran,
hurdling in superb form was ahead. He won by a huge margin in 51.1
seconds, a magnificent victory. White of Ceylon, who was second, had
very little competition before the games and his achievement of 51.8
seconds deserves the highest praise.”
Coincidentally it also happened to be the year in which Sri Lanka was
born a new nation after 443 years of colonial domination. The happy
coincidence infused the nation with new hope. It gave them some pride.
Two years later in record breaking time, Duncan won a gold medal in
the 400 metres hurdles event at the British Empire Games, Auckland 1950
- he beat the “hot” favourite Dutch Holland of New Zealand into 2nd
place and broke the existing Empire Games record.
Duncan retired from competition in 1950 and after a brief stay in
Ceylon left the country and was domiciled in England.Duncan White has
never forgotten his roots. He used to visit his mother country as often
as he could. He and his wife would always give a helping hand to anyone
that needed their help. With his service to his fellow men he won the
Gold medal minted in the memory of all those who knew Duncan White.
He passed away in July 1998, but his memory, his Olympic silver
medal, his gold medal at the British Empire Games in 1950 and his
services will outlast him in the annals of Sri Lankan History.