Brains that helped him shuttle to the top | Daily News
Prof. RANJIT DE SILVA

Brains that helped him shuttle to the top

Prof. Ranjit de Silva's Badminton feats brought pride to St. Joseph’s College, Darley Road the school that produced several outstanding sportsmen in most fields.

In cricket it had Ken Serpanchy and Malcolm Berenger as was Malcom Franke, a leg spinning, googly bowling sensation who played for New South Wales in Sheffield Shield cricket and would have played for Australia if not for the famous Richie Benaud spinning his web around batsmen of that era.

In football and basketball it had Peter Ranasinghe and Sam Lovell. In athletics it had Ethiriweerasingham, Winslow and Adolph Silva and many others whose names that don’t come to mind.

Above them in sport

But equaling them and arguably being above them in a sport that has never been given the publicity it requires and who made waves and still continues to do so is Professor RANJIT DE SILVA in the shuttle game.

The unassuming, likeable and soft spoken DE SILVA, has not only excelled in the sport he loves best, but as an academic who can caw to the world, but who prefers to remain silent and let others to write home about him.

In badminton the country has produced many outstanding stars. But in this constellation of stars outshining all of them is the Professor of Engineering RANJIT DE SILVA.

Simplicity

I had the opportunity of first meeting him in New Zealand while on tour with the country’s cricket team and next when we served on the committee sent up by Director of Sports Saman Amerasinghe in choosing the ‘Sports Stars of the Year’ and can vouch for his simplicity.

He has credentials and can caw to the world. But he is simple and would not want to flaunt his plumes. Even when asked he would answer to the point and not brag, like lesser mortals would love to.

Although ageing, like we all do, he has not gone to slow down or prove a damper and force him lose interest in the game that brought him, the game, the country so much honour and glory.

Pole Vault event

It is said that as a 12-year old student at SJC he had the distinction of winning the pole vault event in his age group at the school’s athletic meet.

He seems to have sporting blood in his DNA as he played a bit of cricket for the school at under 14 level. He then proceeded to show his talents in table tennis playing for the school at under-16 and under-19 level and helped the school emerge champions in the school circuit.

After a brilliant academic career in school he stepped into the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya where he soon began to show his exceptional talents in badminton and helped them to wear the championship crown in A Division shuttling from 1961 to 1964.

First class honours

While indulging in sport he never neglected his studies he graduated with first class honours in Engineering in 1964. He concentrated on his shuttle career and in 1966 he won the national singles title defeating G.W. Chandrasena in the final. On the way to winning the title he pushed aside L.R. Ariyananda who was the reigning champ in 1964 and 1965. Then his best moment in the academic field came when he obtained a Commonwealth Scholarship to Cambridge University. At Cambridge his badminton career blossomed as he helped the Uni to a smashing 15-nil victory. It was the first time that Cambridge had achieved this feat in 50 years.

Then on tours to France and Germany he captained the Combined Universities in 1968 and he remained unconquered in the singles matches against the top national players of those two countries.

Scholarship

Incidentally before going on scholarship to Cambridge, DE SILVA represented the country in the first ever Asian Badminton Championship. He later toured Indonesia in 1971 and in 1973 had his dream of captaining the national team on their tour to China. DE SILVA had the honour of being appointed the youngest Professor in the Sri Lankan University at the young age of 31 in 1974.

Continuing to motor on the badminton highway and in 1974 he pocketed the national singles title. It was the first occasion when a fully fledged academic was able to do so. In 1978 he jetted to Zambia and headed its Engineering Services at Consolidated Copper Mines Ltd.

Then in Zambia he continued in the shuttle game and was ranked number one in 1980 which no other Sri Lankan had achieved. His talents in the game and administration did not go unnoticed as he was elected to head the Zambian National Olympic Committee and with hard work brought the country to the top of African badminton.

Zonal President

He was also Zonal President of the African Badminton Federation with countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Nambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania coming under his wings. Then while in Zambia DE SILVA competed in Masters Games and pocketed the gold medal in the singles over 50 years category and then in 2002 he won a double in the over 60 category.

Before leaving the country DE SILVA won the Mixed Doubles six times and the Men’s Doubles once. While in Zambia in 1966 he was elected to the World Council from Africa. He was President of the Sri Lanka Badminton Association from April 2008 to May 2010.

Worked hard

He worked hard for the player and game at both junior and senior level when Sri Lanka won the junior gold medal , a silver medal and two bronze medals at the Asian Junior Championships.

This success prompted Sri Lanka being awarded 5 out of 10 badminton World Federation Scholarships for the development of juniors in Asia.

Recently Professor de Silva was honoured when he became the first in South Asia to receive the highly prestigious and rare lifetime achievement award from the Badminton World Federation given for exceptional contributions and achievements in international badminton.

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