It was such a joy and honour to meet up with an active living legend, Sumathiran Navaratnam (popularly known as Summa amongst his friends) at his residence recently before I emplaned to Australia.  During in the 1940s and 50s Summa was the cynosure of all eyes as he streaked through at lightening speed to score [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Summa the great –91 not out


Summa Navaratnam

It was such a joy and honour to meet up with an active living legend, Sumathiran Navaratnam (popularly known as Summa amongst his friends) at his residence recently before I emplaned to Australia.  During in the 1940s and 50s Summa was the cynosure of all eyes as he streaked through at lightening speed to score brilliant tries on the rugby fields, while on the athletic fields, he scattered the springs of grass on the turf, with his brilliant sprints, to smash many Sri Lanka and Asian athletics records in 1953. That talent, Summa is a household name, having won international acclaim for his athleticism and rugby skills. In 1953, Summa was dubbed “Asia’s Fastest Human” and “Fastest Man in Asia”, when he broke the existing 100 m record at the Indian States Olympic Meet in Chennai (then Madras) running neck to neck with Lavy Pinto, the best of the Indian sprinters.

His best time of 10.4 seconds surpassed both the Indian and Asian records and compared well with the 1948 London Olympic record of 10.3 seconds and the Helsinki Olympic record of 10.4 secs.  He was not only known as the “Fastest man in Asia” but he weathered many a storm in life and sailed on in great style to be a winner as the “Fastest Winger” on the rugby fields excelling for Royal then CR&FC and Sri Lanka. “They don’t make such a caliber of giants and better”. This was the description of the legendary sportsman who had an enormous impact on athletics and as a dazzling runner with the rugger ball and superb tackler.  Sumathiran is the son of late Mr. S.S. Navaratnam of the former Ceylon Civil Servant and Mrs. K.T. Navaratnam, the daughter of Dr. C.S. Ratnam, born in May 21st, 1925 in the remote village of Araly North in Vadukodai in the Jaffna Peninsula.

His civil servant father wanted his son groomed in the traditions of the British Public Schools and so Royal College was chosen for him to learn of books. He was a stylish Boxer representing Royal College at the Stubbs Shield Boxing meet of 1939, in the Bantam weight class but lost narrowly in the final. At the early age of 15, he was awarded College Colours for Athletics and Boxing in 1940, and it remains to date as the youngest athlete in achieve this at Royal College. In 1943, he became the Champion Junior Athlete at Royal, winning the U14, U16 and Best Performance Cup at the Public Schools Meet and Schools AAA. In the same year Summa won the 200m and 400m events in the Public Schools’ Meet with some excellent timings and he was also a key member of 4x100m winning relay quartet, anchoring the team. In one occasion, he faced a major dilemma whether to run his pet event the 100m, or to help the College win the relays and thus the major trophies.

He sacrificially decided to run only in the relays, which finally gave Royal both the Tarbat and Jafferson trophies. This unselfish act also won him respect and high praise from the team-mates, as it epitomises the character and spirit of sportsmanship in this young man’s heart, to put school before self and team before individual glory. He was an exceptional talented athlete who captained the Royal Athletic Team in 1942 and 1943. In 1945, Summa represented Ceylon in the dual meet against India and won the 4x100m relay running with outstanding athletes such as Duncan White, R.E. Kitto and Basil Henricus. At the Nationals in 1944, 1946 and 1947 he carried away the Wilton Bartleet Trophy for the best individual performance for his pet event. In 1950 Summa had the opportunity to representing his country for Empire and Commonwealth, Auckland, New Zealand in the 100yds and 4 x 100 relay quarter.

He missed inclusion in the Ceylon team for the 1948 London Olympic Games due to “Nepotism” on the part of the then selectors. In 1953 he had a unique experience, when he had to participated in the 100 m international event of the Ceylon AAA Nationals and he was scheduled to represent Ceylon in a rugby international game against the Australian Colts. So Summa was rushed at 4 p.m. to the CH&FC rugby grounds immediately after the international athletics event, a rare feature for anyone to be representing the country in two international sports events on the same day. But Summa did! and he is great! In those ‘Old days’ in Sri Lanka, our local athletes ran on grass tracks only, not on any special tracks. If Summa had these facilities in Sri Lanka then, one could well imagine the results and enhanced timings.

In his later years, his expertise as an athletics coach produced five classy athletes around the 1960s, to name a few were Darrell Lieversz (Royal College 200m and 400m and National Champ), Lakshman de Alwis (St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, Sri Lanka’s Champion Sprinter and later National Coach), Nirmala Dissanayake (200m), Lorraine Ratnam (100m Champion – 1960 Asian Games), and Jilska Flamer – Caldera (80 m hurdles champ).  He still helps in coaching the under 10s and has been a long standing rugby co-ordinating coach for Royal College. Summa climbed the ladder of success the hard way and his wonderful sporting achievements were the result of solid work, dedication, a sense of selfless sacrifice and relentless commitment to training.

These innate qualities enriched Summa’s life and built him strong in mind and stature with regard to schools rugby his advice is: “Start them young, get them fit first, Teach and drill the basic skills into them until it is perfected. Do not teach them to ‘run’ before they can walk.” It is not only the running but the basic skills that are a priority in any sport. Great patience, understanding and true dedication is required to carry it through.”  Summa and his wife Romaine are blessed with a son and a daughter. The happily married sporting couple are now grandparents to four children.  So, the saga of Summa concluded with an answer on how he kept fit and youthful. Being active and “on the ball” has done him good and nothing works better than faith in God.

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