Tracking our tracks of yesteryear

Reminiscences of Athletics -- 1951-1958

By J C Fernando (Captain of Athletics – 1958 )

I joined Royal College in 1951 as an eleven year old, and it was awe inspiring to watch the seniors, who seemed gigantic at that time, train in running, jumping, vaulting and throwing in our grounds.
The very first Inter-House Sports Meet is still etched in my mind. Unlike today, the healthy rivalry and competition was terrific – it served as the springboard for representation at the inter-school level and hopefully adorns the much coveted colours. Alan Henricus, our Athletics Captain that year was a super sportsman and a super hero. He excelled at Pole Vault and in the Sprints and hurdles. In addition he got his colours in Boxing and Rugby and also played in 1st XI Cricket.

Standing L to R: M. Anghie, H. Wickramasinghe, M. Dias, P. Poulier, R. Wickremeratne, S. Wickramasinghe, T. Perayerawar, G. Jayakurn, R. Weerasooria. Seated L to R: J.C Fernando, D.A Gunasekera, Mr. Dudley Silva (Principal), W. Abeysekera (Capt), Mr. B. St. E de Bruin (Athletic Master), T.D.S.A. Dissanayaka, L. Kotelawala.

I witnessed my first Public Schools Athletics Championships at the ‘Oval’ that year, and still remember Henricus running the anchor leg in the 4 X 440 relay. He started the lap with a healthy 15 yards ahead over the STC guy who whittled away this lead with every stride and eventually won having overtaken our hero in the last 5 yards!. Henricus confided in me that he still has nightmares about that race.

The next couple of years of Athletics were rather unremarkable with nary a winner at the schools championships, except for a Titanic battle in the 220 yards final in 1953 between Alan De Saram of Royal College and M. Balasubramanium of STC. The latter edged out our Captain at the tape, but controversy hovers as yet ‘who’ the real winner was!.In those days the Tarbat and Jefferson trophies for overall champs and the relays respectively, seemed never to leave Colombo and its suburbs (STC) and very occasionally to the hills (Trinity College Kandy), St. Joseph’s College/Royal/S. Thomas’ College and Ananda College were the winners mostly. In addition there was the Victoria Shield on offer for relays (4 X 110 and 4 X 440 yards) at the national Championships. Here again only the better known Public Schools triumphed.

Come 1955, and there was a dramatic change in Athletics at Royal. This was probably due to the fact that in the two previous years, our jumpers had carried away all before them and was now in the senior ranks. It was the Silver Jubilee meet (25 years) of the “Pubs” and our skipper Suranjan De Silva had the privilege of going up to receive the Tarbat as well as the Jefferson. Royal secured many wins - I believe 5 in all.

In 1956 we surpassed the achievements of the previous year and went on to record the highest points tally ever (Old points system) on our way to annexing the Tarbat and Jefferson. In all Royal had seven firsts including the relays.

We also won the Victoria Shield that year. Incidentally we had two captains in 1956, as Nihal Weeratunga left school midyear for lucrative employment and W. D. M. Abeysekera, ‘Gorilla’ for obvious reasons took over. Nihal won the national Long Jump title that year and lowered the Ceylon record. ‘Gorilla’ won the national 110 m Hurdles and also I believe T. D. S. A. ‘Jungle’ Dissanayaka won the Putt Shot – phew! Just imagine Royal had in the team three national champs that year.

The following year – 1957, is what I still relive in my dreams! It was a very special year as the Sir John Tarbat who gave the name of the trophy for ‘Pubs Champs” was to be there in person as the chief guest. Many new records were established at this meet on both days by athletes from many schools. The second day culminated with the 4 X 440 relay - the race for the Tarbat was between Royal and SPC - whichever school that won the last event would obtain the necessary points to beat the other for the coveted Tarbat. The script was written well - it came down to the final lap with but a mere couple of yards separating the runners.

As the better team had to win, it was Royal and with a new ‘Pubs” record to boot. Our skipper was a jubilant man when he received the trophy from Sir John Tarbat no less. To date ‘skip’ says that it was his inspirational ‘leadership’ that brought home Royal, everything on offer that year - the Victoria, Tarbat and Jeffreson - when in actual fact he was seated in the pavilion in White longs and Blue blazer for the entirety of the championships!. The Principal’s report at prize day that year carried the comment that in 1957 all Athletes at Royal were “self starters”!!

Ending my account and recalls with 1958, we won the Jeffreson for the fourth year in succession and were runner up to Ananda College in the Tarbat. We had the two relays and one individual event to Ananda College relays and six events. Our beloved Captain of 1957 was still recovering from his “wounds” and sat out in 1958 as well.

Grateful mention must be made of our revered coach Mr. B. St. E. DeBruin Esqr, Mr. M. M. Gunarathna, Master-in-Charge and our much loved ground staff David and Noor - the latter two providing us with superb underfoot conditions.

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