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Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Maurice Coomarawel - the great cyclist will be remembered for ever!

CYCLING: It’s just over a month that former “Tour de Ceylon”, “Tour de Lanka” cycling legend Maurice Coomarawel passed away in Australia on July 22. Coomarawel was a top class cyclist, but what captured the hearts of all cycling fans was the fact that he was a fine gentleman cyclist. He will be remembered for ever.

Maurice took to cycling in a big way in 1958. He studied at Arethusha College, Wellawatte and rode for Spartan Wheelers and for Winged Wheel Cycling Club, Colombo. He has won almost every cycling event organised by the Ceylon Cycling Association.

Some victories

1959 - National Champion - same year riding for “Spartan Wheelers” Cycling Club. He won the Club Championship Races. 1960 he joined the Wing Wheel Club. The other cycling clubs at that time were, Paragon Peddlers CC, Rocket CC, Winged Wheel CC and Royal Air Force Cycling Club. There were Englishmen representing the Royal Air Force in nineteen fifties, with top racing machines from England.

David Manager, Felix de Jong, Tony Beddow Trevor Newman, Archiebald, Fegrick, Keel Hamitan, Vantwest, Chandra Perera Anthony Symons, Collin Rayel, Merril Bowen and few others. Maurice was a good sprinter, good track cyclist. He gained so many victories in the National Track Cycling Championship held in St. Peter’s Grounds, Bambalapitiya. Top cyclist Chandra Perera was the rider of the day in this meet. I was the Junior Champion.

Rome Olympics

Trials were held to select a team of three cyclists for this Olympic Games, Ceylon top cyclists as stated above took part in these trials. Finally Maurice, myself and Chandra Perera were selected. Once again, a final trial was held to get the high performances in timing. In this event Maurice and I was selected, while Chandra Perera was disqualified, due to violating a official ruling, by this only myself and Maurice were selected and finalised to represent games.

But unfortunately the assassination of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959 led to the sponsors/government pulling out, leaving out chance in these trials held. Maurice and I showed high performances while myself, Chandra Perera and Maurice did team work to qualify the Olympic Games timing and we three gained 1st, 2nd and 3rd time to time respectively (Ceylon Daily News - June 16, June 17, 1960).

Due to the said reason and lack of funds in the Government at that time a team of five members were sent for the Rome Olympics as following: 1. Linsus Dias (athletic marathon), 2. Sumith Liyanage (boxing), 3. M. Coomarawel (cycling), 4. Tony William (swimming), 5. W. Dharmasiri (boxing).

‘Tour wins’

Returning from Rome Olympics, Maurice’s first victory was in the Paragon Sriterium. The toughest race in the cycling calendar at that time.

Maurice finished in a terrific finish in a tight finish beating Hamilton Van Twest and Anthony Symons, second and the third respectively.

First ever “Tour de Ceylon”, there were three categories of events at that time - 1. Standard Class, 2. Racing Class, 3. Racing Class for Clubs affiliated to the Cycling Association of Ceylon (amateur).

The toughest event was the racing class, as all the top cyclists in Ceylon took part in this event like M. Coomarawel, Hamilton Van Twest, Archie Keel, Felix de Jung, M.S.M. Lareef, myself and few others. This tour was only 260 miles for two days.

Maurice won this race in a terrific finish, beating Hamilton, Anthony Symons and Archie Keel - second, third and fourth respectively.

Tour wins by Maurice Coomarawel: 1960 - Racing Class - 1st, 1962 - Racing Cycle Class - 1st, 1965/1966/1967 - Standard Cycle Class - 1st. Anthony Symons was rival to Maurice at that time and it is said that Symons is the only cyclist (racing) in those legendary days in late 1950 and 1960s who is still remaining and still on the saddle, riding for veterans and masters events.

Maurice Coomarawel was a lucky cyclist and as everyone knows that a cyclist needs a little bit of luck to succeed. Coomarawel went on to win titles while Symons met with bad luck many times.

1963-1967 Coomarawel served in the CTB and, in early ‘70s he was in the Air Force, representing them in cycling.

Maurice Coomarawel’s last events in Sri Lanka were in late 70’s competing in the “Nilmini Savariya” at Matara. Coomarawel was placed second. G.H. Henderson of the Air Force won the event and Symons was third. Coomarawel left for Australia after the event and lived there for the rest of his life.

However, it must be said that Coomarawel was not forgotten. He was felicitated in 2006 by the Ceyling Federation of Sri Lanka by the Hony.

President DIG K.P. Pathirana. All the former cyclists gathered together on this day.

Anthony Symons

 

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