Missed opportunity in 1960 and his moments in cricket

Ethirveerasingam recalls his Olympics days


By Reemus Fernando

(Continued from yesterday)

Nagalingam Ethirveerasingam (middle row extreme left), played for Sierra Leonne for five years from 1968, when he was a lecturer there. The Sierra Leonne national team and a Combined Commonwealth team are pictured here. Derek Underwood is on his left. Keith Fletcher is seated third left. Sri Lanka’s Gamini Goonasena, who was a member of the Commonwealth XI, is seated extreme left. Tony Greig is standing fourth from left in the middle row. Behind him to the right is Khalid Ibadulla (Pakistan opening batsman). Mickey Steward is seated in the middle. Mike Denness is seated on the right.

Since of late, there is a tendency for youth to give up other sports and go in for cricket. But decades ago, for Ethir, it was the other way around. He gave up cricket for athletics and missed two Big Matches before making a return. Later, he had the rare opportunity of playing against some household names in world cricket.


By 1956, Ethir had established himself as a prominent high jumper. He equalled the Asian Games record, clearing a height of 1.95 metres, though he couldn’t be on the podium. He was placed fourth in that edition of the Asian Games in Manila, Philippines. But the height he cleared was the same height the gold (Ajit Singh of India), silver (Yukio Ishikawa of Japan) and bronze (Andres Franco of Philippine) medal winners cleared.

He was getting ready to go to the US for his university studies when he was selected for the Games. With just months remaining for the Olympics, he went across to the US to start his first semester.

"I made a judgmental error in 1956. If I had known that, I would have started my semester in January, instead of September; I wouldn’t have gone in September, with just three months to go for the Olympics. There was nobody to tell me that I could start my semester in January. I did not know this. The life style in the university was new to me. I had to work two hours a day for my three meals after work out and classes. I was not used to that. Soon, I began to feel tired. When I went to the US, my thinking was that I would be able to compete in meets there and gain some extra bit to go for a medal. Here (in Sri Lanka), I was clearing a height which was similar to the second place winning height at the US Championship. But when I went there, there were no meets. I would have done better had I remained in Sri Lanka."

What happened at the 1956 Olympics?

"In the qualifying competition at the Olympics, I was the only one to qualify without a single miss. I was happy. The qualifying round was held at 10.00 am and the finals at 2.00 pm.There was a two hour rest in between. There was no one with me. I did not have anything to eat. I could have taken a sandwich or something like that. I was confronted with it suddenly. That was because of my lack of experience. Had somebody like Duncan White been there, things would have been different. Somebody who had competed at that level being there he would have told me what to do. I wouldn’t have won a medal, but I would have done better."   

Despite making it to the final round without missing on a single occasion, Ethir had to be contended with a jump of 1.92 metres, which was .03 centimetres short of his Asian Games performance. He was ranked 21st.

Two years later, he won gold at the Asian Games, with a performance of 2.03 metres, which also remained his personal best until he retired in the early ‘60s. He would clear a height of 6 feet 8 inches at the Pacific Coast Conference Championship (3rd best meet in the US), to reach the qualifying standards for the 1960 Rome Olympics. But the National Olympic Committee (Ceylon Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association), and the sports authorities here would not accept it. "The Athletics Association of Sri Lanka recommended me to the NOC. But the NOC did not pick me. I was told that there were better athletes to be sent." He corresponded from the US with Cmdr. Darley Ingleton, the then secretary of the NOC, for whom he has high regards, nevertheless. The sports authorities here picked Leenus Dias, the marathoner, instead. "I was happy that they picked Leenus Dias. He was my friend."

In 1962, two years after he was rejected by the authorities, Ethir won silver at the Asian Games. He cleared only a height of two metres.

Although he is best known as an Olympic athlete, he has had his moments in cricket as well. After giving up cricket for two years for athletics (which meant he did not play in the big match), Ethir made a return to cricket in 1953 to play for Jaffna Central, as the opening bowler, in their annual big match.

Years later, he represented Sierra Leone in cricket, when he was a lecturer there. A good performance in a match (in 1968), against a Combined Commonwealth (Lister’s XI) is probably what he cherishes most. In that match, he played against the likes of Mike Denness, Keith Fletcher and Tony Greig.

"I bowled 32 overs with just a one over break in that match. I got the wickets of Khalid Ibadulla, Mike Denness and Keith Fletcher," recalls Ethir.

Ethir was first coached by P. E. Rajendra (formerly a 400 metres hurdler), a teacher at Central College. Duncan White and Anthony Abeysinghe (St. Joseph’s Coach), who at a later stage was appointed national coach, also coached Ethir. "He (Abeysinghe), was up to date with the latest techniques. He was the best coach I ever had. He was good in all aspects of coaching and still could be ranked among the world’s best coaches."

In 1955, Ethir came under Brayton Wilson Norton, a coach from California, who was sponsored by the Asia Foundation to coach here. Norton influenced Ethir to persevere University Education in the US. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and received his doctorate (Agriculture Education) from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.











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