Did Sri Lanka throw away an Olympic medal in 1976?

In 1976, K.B. Rathnayaka was the Minister of Sports of Sri Lanka. Julian Grero was the president of the National Olympic Committee and Shirley Illesinghe was the chef de mission.

Must these names be written in Sri Lanka's history with due dishonour as the major officials who denied Sri Lanka an apparent Olympic medal in 1976 at Montreal? The answer depends on the balance of the levels of patriotism and nationalism in your blood.

They were alleged to be the men behind successfully upsetting Sellapuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa aka S.L.B. Rosa winning a medal in Montreal Olympics in 1976.

View Rosa's performances here >>

Rosa's story has been written by many writers. This is a story which reveals the names of the 'villains' too who are accused of cutting off an Olympic medal for Sri Lanka, according to Rosa and many other Sri Lankan sports writers.

Sri Lankan marathon legend S. L. B. Rosa said to media he had had no ambition to compete under the Olympic flag when the country pulled out of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. It was an apparent option before him. He could run under the Olympic flag instead of a country flag. But Rosa said that the Sri Lankan official who was present there had filed objections against such a move.

The official who was so firm in the government's decision to boycott Olympics even to the length to prevent anyone except himself participate in the event was Shirley Illesinghe. Can we blame him for that? Sri Lanka was hosting the summit of Non-aligned Movement a month later in Colombo. Rosa was to run in Montreal Olympics in July 1976. Sri Lanka was elected to the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement in August. The country was full throttle in preparations for the summit.

Actually, Sri Lanka's expressed decision to boycott 1976 Montreal Olympics which rationalized denying Rosa the chance to run for an apparent medal for Marathon was controversial. Why on earth the Sri Lankan chef de mission Shirley Illesinghe had been there flying Sri Lankan flag high if the country actually boycotted Olympics according to a collective decision of 22 countries of the Non-Aligned Movement? The boycott was organised by Tanzania to protest the facts that the New Zealand rugby team had toured apartheid South Africa and that New Zealand was scheduled to compete in the Olympic Games. Rosa says the African countries that actually boycotted had neither hoisted their flag nor sent officials to Montreal.Was Illesinghe on an Olympicnic like the Sri Lankan train to Rio these days?

In fact Rosa had more chance of winning an Olympic medal thanks to the boycott of Africans who were the top long distance runners. In 1976, Sri Lanka was so close yet so far from an Olympic medal in 1976.

S.L.B. Rosa was a village boy from Ampitiya, Kandy and educated in a humble Christian school in Kandy. His father died when he was four years old. His mother brought up the boy and he excelled in athletics as a long distance runner after he joined Army Engineers' Corps. His emergence marked with defeating R.J.K. Karunananda in 5000 meters in National Championships of 1965. Karunananda received a standing ovation at 1964 Tokyo Olympics due to the courage he showed ending the 10,000 meters as last man, even after a full round lead from his nearest competitor.

Rosa established a new Asian Games record for the 10,000 metres with timing of 29 minutes - 55.6 seconds. He won the 5,000, meters with timing of 14 minutes. 32.2 seconds. His 10,000 meters timing was bettered by only five Olympic champions at that time. It was 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok. He represented 1972 Munich Olympics and practiced hard targeting a medal in Marathon. By then, he was a student of University of Wisconsin Park, USA.

Analyzing the performances of Rosa and the numerous victories he had achieved in USA, Lalith Gunawardena in his 2004 book ‘Visikala Olympic Padakkama Rosa’ (Rosa the thrown away Olympic medal) suggests that Rosa had a good chance of winning a medal in Montreal.

Rosa established a new Sri Lanka record in Japan, months before the Montreal Olympics. His time of two hours 14 minutes and 31 seconds placed him 11th at the Fukuoka Marathon, which was considered the world’s top marathon at that time.

‘The Island’ claimed on July 18, 2012, it had in its possession a copy of a draft of a letter believed to be sent by the Sri Lankan official at Montreal to the International Olympic Committee authorities, preventing Rosa from competing in the Olympics. The newspaper described the incident in its report like this:

The letter, addressed to an IOC official, clearly states that Rosa should not be allowed to participate in the marathon, as an entry from Sri Lanka. It also clearly states that the Sri Lankan Olympic Committee will not be responsible as regards his stay in the Olympic Village.

As it transpired in the letter, the country had entered Rosa as its participant for the marathon earlier and had withdrawn same on July 7.

That was 10 days before the Games proper started. The Montreal Olympics was held from July 17 to August 1.

The Sri Lankan official at the Montreal Olympics had seconded its earlier decision to withdraw the entry via the letter dated July 23, which was just a week before the marathon. The marathon was held on July 31.

The 1976 Olympics marathon was won by Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany, and USA’s Frank Shorter, with whom Rosa had run several races in the USA won the silver, finishing 50 seconds behind the winner.

Did Sri Lanka actually throw away an Olympic medal in 1976?

Was it wrong from the part of Sri Lanka government to maintain its dignity in international relations as the would-be chair of the Non-Aligned Movement without betraying a common struggle for the sake of an Olympic medal?

But wasn't it fair from the part of Rosa to question why he who was in Montreal under US sponsorship was not allowed to run under Olympic flag?

1976 summit of Non-Alignment Movement was the first international conference hosted by Sri Lanka and it took the island's name to the world. For the past 40 years, we have been reaping its outcome indirectly in tourism, commerce, industry and many other sectors. But we had to wait for 24 years more to win the Olympic medal we missed then.

Was the politics in 1976 worth more than an Olympic medal? Even after 40 years, I have no answer.

- Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe


  1. Watch "Guna Ruwa Suwanda" on you tube to listen to this great athlete.

  2. Nodanna ingrisiyen atha patha ganne nathuwa danna sinhalen liyana deyak liwwanam moko paro..

    1. සිංහල අකුරු තියෙද්දී මේ විදිහට කුණුහරප නොලියා හිටපන්කෝ ඩෝ

    2. Para ayiyata thada wuna wage, mama aththane kiwwe

    3. ඉහත කමෙන්ටුව මගේ එකක් නො වේ. මෙය හුදෙක් කුතුහලය නිසා කරන ලද විමර්ශනයකි. මෙම සිද්ධිය පිළිබඳ ලංකාවේ කැලැන්ඩර් මාධ්‍යකරුවෝ සෑම සිව් වසරකට ම වරක් ඔලිම්පික් කාලයට ලියති. එහෙම දේවල් තිබේ. නිදසුනක් ලෙස, ප්‍රේමසර ඈපාසිංහ සීගිරියේ ගුරුවරයකුව සිටියදී කිසිවකු විසින් බිතු සිතුවම් මත තාර ගෑම ගැන වසර කීපයකට වරක් ඉංග්‍රීසි පුවත්පතකට ලිපියක් ලිවීම ඔහුගේ පුරුද්දක් වී තිබිණි. ඉංග්‍රීසි පුවත්පත් කලාවේ මෙවැනි චූල සම්ප්‍රදායක් තිබේ. සිංහලෙහි ද ඇත.

      රෝසා පිළිබඳ ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් පළ වූ ලිපි ගණනාවක් කියෙව්වෙමි. ඒ හැම එකක ම මේ පසුපස තිබෙන දේශපාලනය ගැන සැලකිල්ලක් යොමු කර නො තිබිණි. ඒ වෙනුවට සියලු දෙනා පාදක කරගෙන තිබුණේ රෝසාගේ දුක් ගැනවිල්ල පමණි. එහි සාධාරණත්වයක් තිබිණි. එහෙත්, ලංකාවේ ආණ්ඩුව ද අසාධාරණ නැත.

      මෙම ලිපිය ලිව්වේ හුදෙක් ම කරුණු දැන ගැනීම සඳහා කළ විමර්ශනය පාදක කරගෙන ය. මූලාශ්‍ර ඉංග්‍රීසි වූ නිසා ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ලිවීම පහසු විය.

      මේ සමග ම පෙනෙන කාරණයක් වන්නේ ජනප්‍රිය ඇත්ත හා යථාර්ථය අතර තිබෙන වෙනසයි.

    4. ඔබතුමා හින්නෙත් ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ද? අපිටත් කියල දෙන්නකො ඉංග්‍රිසියෙන් හිතලා ලියන හැටි. ප්ලීස් සර්.

  3. Very difficult questions to answer. On one hand Sri lanka should stand with other African countries against Apartheid and yet deny the medal so close to Sri lanka. Remember the cricket team led by Warnapura. I think it is wrong to fly to play cricket there. In that sense it is probably a correct decision to boycot.

  4. කොමියුනිස්ට් ආන්ඩුවක්නෙ තිබුනෙ. ඒකයි. යුඑන්පියම හොඳා

  5. Para’s Contribution to Standardise the
    English Language in Sri Lanka

    Para, let me begin with congratulating you for your most remarkable article. Would you like to have our comments on your groundbreaking article (perhaps an epoch-making dissertation!)? We are compelled to enlighten and entertain your most erudite intellectual entity with a few observations in accordance with our most modest scholarship.

    It has been said that Shakespeare used the English language at his own will and ultimately standardised the English language used in England in the 17th and the 18th centuries. The words he coined and the phrases he formulated have enriched the beautiful English language. Para, your scholarly article is a laudatory testimonial of your own contribution to standardise the English language used in Sri Lanka in the 21st century. You have put forward a strong case for you to be duly laurelled as the Shakespeare of Sri Lanka.

    You have just proven by your article that you are not merely criticising others but providing sound alternatives as well. You have been a vocal critic of the barons in the citadel of the local press for their use of sophisticated Archaic English. To complement your staunch criticism that has been incessant for many a more year, now you have come up with a decorated (if not hodgepodge) language as demonstrated in your article. One may be inclined to prejudice that your proposed language features your much cherished standardised Sri Lankan English (or Matugama English as some Brown Sahibs had previously labelled in a ridiculous manner). I am afraid, I could not agree with such claims. One should be insane to arrive at a conclusion that your English is Sri Lankan, if one investigates seriously into your vocabulary and style. Yours is an English that has been tremendously influenced by French! Your alternative for Archaic English seems to be an English blended with French. Although there has been a vocabulary of nearly 10 000 French words shaping up the English language since the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, nobody has ever been influenced as much as you have been!

    I wonder whether your high affinity to and expertise in French is due to your covert and unpublicised lengthy stay at the Sorbonne as you were engaged in your doctoral and postdoctoral research in political philosophy! Or is it due to your close follow-up of Kumar de Silva’s famous television programme in the early 90s known as Bonsoir? Over the long years, I have been fortunate to read the high class writings by great scholars who had read for their doctorates at the Sorbonne, such as Prof. Siri Gunasinghe, Prof. Somarathne Balasooriya, Prof. Sarath Amunugama, Dr. Sarath Amunugama etc. But I have never seen that any of them has such an obsessional affinity to ornament their English writings with French phrases as much as you have.

    When I consider your remarkable article, I am saddened that your language and style has simply surpassed a great alumnus of the Oxford such Dr. Susil Siriwardene who read English at the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Not only Susil, but also Rajiva will be thrown out by your command in English which is gilded with French phrases!

    Cont ...

  6. Para, let me place you for a moment near a great mogul of the local press in Sri Lanka in the name of D. B. Dhanapala, who gifted a great collection of pen-portraits in his nectarous book “Among Those Present”. D. B. Dhanapala’s luminous career has been considered legendary. He learnt the English alphabet at the age of 14 years, went on to earn his Master’s in English literature from the University of Allahabad by the age of 26 years and started writing in an elite style in the nom de plume of Janus. So does Para; from the backyards of Matugama via Weerawila detention camp into the bastion of web journalism, has he a heroic expedition. (May Nihalsinghe’s soul in the heavens have mercy upon me for comparing a Pygmy with his gigantic father!)

    Para, I wonder whether you have already sent a copy of your excellent article to our great journalist Lakshman Gunasekera. If you are too busy, I may forward it as a sincere support to your endeavour. Knowing the man’s solid composure, I am confident that Lucky will not be shaken by your article. Yet, it could cause nightmares even for the well-established and talented journalists like Malinda or Champika, regarding their job securities. Because, you have divulge a clear message with your article, that there is a strong contender for the prestigious post of the editor-in-chief for any mainstream English medium newspaper!

    While appreciating and congratulating once more for your excellent article written in your style, may I remain.

    N.B: This comment has been written bona fide. The writer has no intention at all to disrupt the Jungian persona of Ajith Perakum Jayesinghe.


  7. It is truly magnificent to see the presence of a great scholar of lofty standards who possesses such fine and refined senses so as to be able to appreciate the greatest contribution Para has been benevolent to grant the English language here.

    Oh how para is flattered by the greatest scholars right in front of my eyes here!!!

  8. Mind your own business men. Don't waste your data here to insult me. You can't do it because I don't expect respect from anyone and I don't respect anyone merely because they are respected by others.

    The one who wrote this clearly displays his mind which is ill with unfathomable hatred towards me. The amount of hatred he has heaped within him is shocking. May these well thought out words he has released here relieve him from the pain in his mind!

    Why can't this man use his language skills to bring the country's literary standards higher instead of mudslinging a humble man like me? Does he symbolize the nature and upbringing of a certain elite social section of this country?

    This is some kind of madness I can't understand.

    Have I hit the nail so deep?

    1. Also, I can guess the one who wrote this and I can understand why he is so ill.

      Read Kumarathunga Munidasa's Heensaraya to understand what has happened to you.

      Take it easy man, it is not good to your age. Let us forget this. Now I know I have hit it right and I will stop it here.

      We were friends one time and it is your arrogance among the new found bosses pushed you to this agony.

    2. Remember, Heensaraya was written by Kumarathunga Munidasa. Not by Chandrika Kumarathunga.

    3. Remember, Heensaraya was written by Kumarathunga Munidasa. Not by Chandrika Kumarathunga.

    4. A “humble man” who wrote a piece of shit to desperately attempt the elite personalities! W3Lanka vividly portrays Para’s whining in his alienation from the mainstream media, a self-catharsis to relieve his most putrid soul. Just another post-colonial phenomenon!

    5. Mind you my man!! You are talking to a great personality who is extolled by the best of scholars for his innovative contribution to the modern English used in Sri Lanka. No less than Shakespeare in Sri lanka in 21st century. Read the above comments and observe modesty in your criticisms!!

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. Putrid soul, alienation or whatever it is, you must understand this blog is a reflection of oppressed people against elite social elements (personalities too). So it is not a 'Eureka' to run on the road naked.

      I have identified your hide and seek game. Please stop your tomfoolery and play the game by the rules.

      Remember this is the last call 'P' aka HA the patron of RBA.


මාතෘකාවට අදාළ නැති හා වෛරී අදහස් ඉවත් කිරීමට ඉඩ ඇති බව කරුණාවෙන් සලකන්න.