This is the story of a champion lifter who brought a new lease of life to an ailing sport in Sri Lanka. Since Chinthana Widanage won his Gold Medal in 2006, the sport has woken up like a sleeping giant and now weightlifting is one of the main medals hopes especially during the Commonwealth Games.
He was born in a remote village in the Polonnaruwa District. Vidanage was a student of Polonnaruwa Royal Central College. He won a gold medal in the men's 62 kg category weightlifting; the first weightlifting gold medal for Sri Lanka in the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Australia. Vidanage won over India’s Arun Murugesan. The gold was decided on a countback.
This is Vidanage’s story: “My name is Chinthana Vidanage and I am a weightlifter. I won the weightlifting gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and I won a Silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. I started my weightlifting career in 1996/97 year, while still a 15-year-old schoolboy. I got my first break to represent my country at the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Thereafter in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018, I have been a part of my weightlifting team at the Commonwealth Games and the year 2022 will be my sixth occasion.
“I never thought of ending up like a weightlifter. I used to take part in all the sports activity that was in my school. At that time one of my senior students who was the weightlifting champion of the school encouraged me to be a part of his team. In that manner, I also got used to doing all the exercise disciplines that go along with that. There I wanted to emulate my peer. I also wanted to become a weightlifting champion. Under that influence, my friend took me to his weightlifting guru in my village at Polonnaruwa.
“Something that I have not revealed in my journey is that at the beginning of my career; as soon as I got through my Ordinary Level Examinations, I used to plough the fields in Polonnaruwa to make some extra cash to sustain my weightlifting. I used to be at the training centre early morning and after my training, I used to be at the ploughing fields till later night. I did routine till I did my Advanced Level Examination. Sometimes when time permitted, I did odd labour work too. This enabled me to sustain my initial stages of training as a weightlifter. This is my untold story.
“From the stage that I took up weightlifting seriously in 2002, I have enjoyed my life being a sportsman, especially the Gold that I won in Manchester. That Manchester episode has left an indelible mark in my sports career. I remember everything that happened during the 2006 games and it still lives vividly in my memory. That is the very reason that I have continued being a part of the Commonwealth dream until now. I know the inner feeling of being a part of it.” Concluded Vidanage.
Talking of Lankan aspects of the Commonwealth Games History Sri Lanka has clinched 21 medals so far including four golds, eight silver and nine bronze medals. The first medal and the gold was won by boxer WA Henricas at the 1938 Sydney Games–then known as British Empire’s Games.
Sri Lanka – then Ceylon did not take part in the inaugural Empire Games in Hamilton, New Zealand and 1934 London Games. Sri Lanka also skipped the Commonwealth Games in the years – 1954, 1974 and 1980.
After the Sydney Games in 1938, the games were interrupted by the Second World War and the games recommenced in 1950. At the British Empire Games held in Auckland in 1950 Ceylon recorded an impressive medal haul by winning four medals of a gold, two silver and a bronze. Taking part in those games was the late grate Duncan White who won the gold medal in the 440 yards hurdles with a time of 52.5 secs while two silver medals were won by boxers Albert Perera (Bantamweight) and K. Edwin (Flyweight). A.I. Obeysekera representing the middleweight category won the bronze medal.
This was followed by a prolonged medal drought. Sri Lanka’s next success at the Commonwealth Games came during the Victoria Games in 1994 where Sri Lanka clinched three medals–all medals were won by the shooters.
The gold medal was won by Pushpamali Ramanayake and Mali Wickremasinghe in the rifle Shooting Team Event while the two silver medals were won by Lakshman Rajasinghe and C.H. Chandrasiri (Shooting Team Event) and Mali Wickremasinghe in the single event.
Four years later hurdler Sriyani Kulawansa became the first Sri Lankan female track and field athlete to make a podium finish. She clocked a career-best 12.95 secs to win the 100m-hurdles silver medal at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur. Besides that, Sugath Thilakaratne– grabbed a silver.
Sri Lanka failed to win a medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester despite the presence of sprint-queen Susanthika Jayasinghe and Chinthana Vidanage.
Chinthana Geethal Vidanage then won Sri Lanka’s first Weightlifting medal and Gold at the 2006 Melbourne Games. He won gold in the men’s 62Kg.
At the 2010 New Delhi Games, Sri Lanka won a silver and a bronze in weightlifting. Chinthana Vidanage recorded his second medal, a silver in the 69 kg. Sudesh Pieris won the bronze in the 56 kg. Peiris followed this up with a silver medal at the 2014 Games in Glasgow.
At last, Gold Coast, Queensland Sri Lankan weightlifters once again did well winning silver and five bronze medals. The Silver was won by Indika Dissanayake in Weightlifting (men's 69 kg), Bronze by Chaturanga Lakmal in Weightlifting (men's 56 kg), Dinusha Gomes in Weightlifting (women's 48 kg), Anusha Koddithuwakku in Boxing (women's 48 kg), Thiwanka Ranasinghe in Boxing (men's 49 kg) and Vidanalange Bandara in Boxing (men's 52 kg).