Sri Lanka bank on Nalanda boxer Mihiran to deliver dream medal | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka bank on Nalanda boxer Mihiran to deliver dream medal

2 April, 2023
Umayanga Mihiran (red) during his exhibition bout
Umayanga Mihiran (red) during his exhibition bout

While sports officials squander millions on joy rides, a most promising boxer is unsure of showcasing his potential at a world meet:

Two years ago a frail-looking teenager Umayanga Mihiran caught the eye of the National Boxing Selection Committee chairman and retired Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya during a trial meet for the Asian Youth and Junior Boxing Championship to be held in Dubai, UAE.

“The selection committee looked into the potential of boxers who have the technique and physical fitness. There were only two who had some potential and probably could be groomed for the future.

“They have the technique, reach and potential to be made into better boxers in the future,” said Jayasuriya, a former Royal College boxing star.

A stylish pugilist himself having been awarded the Col TY Wright trophy for the most scientific boxer at the Stubbs Shield meet in 1977, Jayasuriya must have seen a mirror image of himself in Mihiran who exhibited dazzling ringcraft.

Pasindu Umayanga Mihiran has not only lived up to his early potential but the 20-year-old who was awarded the Sir Henry William Manning Cup for the best boxer at the 95th National Boxing Championship in March is being touted as the next best medal hope for Sri Lanka.

Fresh from losing a narrow points decision to a Filipino rival at the Asian Under-22 Boxing Championship in Thailand, Mihiran sparkled to claim his maiden National title on his debut at a senior competition.

He came like a breath of fresh air, being a cut above the mediocre competition, displaying his full range of boxing artistry virtually to make battle-seasoned opponents look pedestrian. When it was the norm for boxers to go for the jugular displaying brute force, Mihiran proved that the sweet scientific art of boxing was still alive as he wowed connoisseurs of the sport with deft foot and body movements, slipping, feinting and counter punching and being equally at ease fighting in the long range or inside, displaying tactical nous and maturity belying his young age.

Mihiran is a product of Vidyaratena University College, Horana and his boxing coach was Amila Aravinda Tissera.

Mihiran also proved that boxing is not all about brawn as he moved to Nalanda to complete his Advanced Level studies in the Technology stream and came out with flying colours in the A/L exams getting three As.

Today he is the hottest property in Sri Lanka boxing and is poised to become the first Nalandian after Sumith Liyanage to represent the country at the Olympics.

Sri Lanka’s boxing chief Dian Gomes who achieved what seemed an impossible dream of getting a boxer qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games, made another bold proclamation that Mihiran would win an international medal within the next four years.

“The good news is I am trying to send him for the World Boxing Championships to be held in Uzbekistan next month but it will cost a million rupees,” said Gomes who made a fervent appeal to old boys of Nalanda to help the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) raise funds for the purpose.

“Mihiran is our best investment for the future which not only Nalanda but Sri Lanka can be proud of,” said Gomes who was guest of honour at Nalanda’s inter-house boxing meet in which Mihiran fought in an exhibition bout in an event titled Night of Glory.

A Director of the IBA (International Boxing Association), Gomes succeeded in obtaining part of the expenditure waived when Sri Lanka took part in the Women’s World Boxing Championship in Delhi. He also persuaded the Boxing Federation of India to enable Sri Lanka’s representatives to undergo training weeks before the tournament. However, Keshani Hansika suffered a freak injury during training while Nadeeka Ranasinghe lost a close fight to a Mexican in the first round.

“I hope in my lifetime a Nalandian can win an Olympic or Commonwealth medal. We have always invested in Mihiran. He is our best boxer at the moment. He has gone for junior internationals. I have requested the IBA to support Sri Lanka and allow him to fight at the World Championship. For Nalanda that will be the biggest victory,” said Gomes who went down memory lane on how Anuruddha Ratnayake qualified for the Beijing Games amid tremendous odds.

Hailing the chief guest and retired DIG Sumith Liyanage for being the last Nalandian to represent Sri Lanka at the Rome Olympics in 1960 without any support during a difficult era, Gomes said the new BASL leadership has to take boxing from the Stone Age to the digital era. “Boxing is a tough sport. What we lack is physical stamina and mental resilience. Why Sri Lanka is losing in sports at international level is because we don’t teach what you call ‘mental resilience’ at school level,” said Gomes.

He related how he revived the golden era of boxing which had been a favoured sport at the Olympics from 1948 to 1968.

“When I became president in 2001, I picked a good team. It’s not about the president. The team is far superior to leadership. I recruited people better than me. My vice president was DIG (Jayakumar) Thangavelu, secretary Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, a former Army Commander, Rohan Abeywardena, who was security chief of Colombo. We had a great team. Selection was on meritocracy. It did not matter whether you are from Royal or S. Thomas’, we picked the best from underprivileged schools to represent Sri Lanka. That is how we started this journey in eight years to get a boxer qualified for the Olympics,” he told the awe-struck audience comprising parents and students.

“People don’t realise what it takes for a boxer to go to the Olympics. We have to qualify unlike in the past. In boxing, for 60 countries it is a national sport. Russia has one million boxers and 300 boxing clubs. Same with China and India. To become the first 28 in the world is an impossible task. When I took responsibility as president and for my country, we set about with a plan,” he said.

“First thing we realised is we are fighting in the Stone Age while the rest are in the rocket age. I realised Cuba and Russia are the best boxing countries. I got international support for coaching and technology from Cuba. When it came to picking talent, did I go to Royal or Trinity or affluent schools? I went to underprivileged schools and picked six boxers to train at Pannala on a promise, telling parents and principals of the schools that I will personally take responsibility of their children to teach them English, computer science, give them higher education and continued job employment at MAS Holdings,” he said.

After Ratnayake’s feat, a decade later three boxers Anusha Kodituwakku, Tiwanka Ranasinghe and Ishan Bandara won bronze medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games after 68 years.

Hinting at stepping down as BASL president next year, Gomes hoped the new leadership will drive boxing on in the same way he did with meritocracy and high integrity.

Liyanage thanked Gomes and the Nalanda College Boxing Club for donating a ring to the school. “It is a privilege and honour to be the first Nalandian to represent Sri Lanka at the Olympics. Boxing has helped me to meet life challenges and opened many avenues,” said Liyanage who served on the security detail of two presidents and a Prime Minister.

“Nalanda opened doors to my boxing career,” he said recalling the dedication of the then master in charge D Kandasamy. “Sports also taught me self-reliance and self-confidence,” he said.

“You have to be dedicated and focused on your goal. Sports have helped me throughout my life. I am still in good health because of sports,” said the octogenarian who is the oldest living Olympian in Sri Lanka and proud of the fact that he shared the same ring as boxing legend Muhammad Ali then known as Cassius Clay at the Rome Games and also lost to the silver medallist from Poland in the feather weight in his first bout.