Duncan White

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Major Deshamanya
Duncan White
Personal information
Full name Duncan M. White[1]
Born (1918-03-01)1 March 1918[1]
Lathpandura, Kalutara, Basnahira, Sri Lanka[1]
Died 3 July 1998(1998-07-03) (aged 80)[1]
Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Great Britain[1]

Updated on 22 June 2015

Military career
Allegiance Dominion of Ceylon Ceylon
Service/branch Ceylon Defense Force,
Ceylon Army
Rank Major
Unit Ceylon Light Infantry

Major Deshamanya Duncan White, MBE, ED (Sinhala: ඩන්කන් වයිට්) (1 March 1918 – 3 July 1998) was a Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) sportsman. He was the first Ceylonese athlete to win an Olympic medal, winning silver in the 400-metre hurdles at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. He was also the only South Asian to have won an Olympic medal in track and field for more than fifty years.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

White was born on 1 March 1918 in Lathpandura, near Kalutara, in British Ceylon, the second of four children of John Bernard White and Cecilia Hawk White, descended from principally British lineage. He had three brothers, Frederick A. White, also an athlete, Stanley Leonard White and Douglas Andrew White (died 1960). He was educated at Trinity College, Kandy where he was awarded 'Trinity Lion' for athletics; however, this was subsequently withdrawn for disciplinary reasons. He left Trinity in 1937.[2]


He took part in 400-yard hurdles at the 1938 British Empire Games and became champion at national public schools championships, Ceylon championships and India-Ceylon championships. In 1942, with the on set of World War II, White was commissioned as an officer in the Ceylon Light Infantry. He was demobilized in 1947. He later joined the Ceylon Volunteer Force, going on to become a Major and gaining the Efficiency Decoration.[3]

In 1948, he was selected for the team that represented Ceylon at that year's summer Olympics in London; the country had gained its independence from Britain that year. He won silver in the 400-meter hurdles, the first Olympic medal for Ceylon. He had trained for only about 3 months before the games while the gold medallist, Roy Cochran of the United States, had trained for about 4 years. White's time, 51.8 seconds, was only 0.7 seconds behind Cochran; both times bettered the existing Olympic record.[2]

After the Olympic victory, White was welcomed at a ceremony at Trinity College and was honoured with the return of his 'Lion'. In his speech at the special assembly, White said: "[A]lthough my victory at the Olympics is prestigious, the 'Lion' makes me feel more honoured than that", and received the 'Lion' with open arms. The Government of Ceylon awarded him a scholarship to Loughborough University, where he won the Inter-University Challenge Shield. He was appointed an Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and awarded the Helms World Trophy as the "Most Outstanding Athlete" in Asia. In the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand, White won the 440-yard hurdles, only 0.3 seconds behind the world record.[2]

After graduating from Loughborough, he returned to Ceylon in 1951 and was appointed the physical education lecturer at the Teacher's College in Maharagama. In 1958, the Department of Education appointed him coach of the Sri Lanka Schools Athletic Association. In 1963 he took up a post as lecturer at the University of Nigeria in 1963 and went on to become a senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan. He eventually settled in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, briefly returning to Nigeria as an advisor on sports activities.[3]

The Duncan White Sports Foundation was founded on his 72nd birthday, 1 March 1990, and White presented the first award to Sriyantha Dissanayake on 1 March 1991.

Personal Life and Death[edit]

White married Angela Siebel in 1952 and had six children: Maxine, Nita, Christopher, Daniel, Marilyn and Fiona.[3]

He died in 1998 in Nuneaton, despite having said that he intended to migrate with his family to New Zealand.[citation needed] His wife remained in Nuneaton.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Duncan White". sports-reference.com. Sports Reference. Retrieved 22 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d "White’s silver in 1948 is still Lanka’s best", Rootsweb
  3. ^ a b c d "Duncan White, the gentleman", The Sunday Times, 5 July 1998