Herath’s heroics equal to an Olympic gold | Sunday Observer
Anatomy of a Sri Lankan war veteran turned world record breaking athlete:

Herath’s heroics equal to an Olympic gold

12 September, 2021

Sri Lanka has never won a gold medal in the history of the Summer Olympic Games and is unlikely in the foreseeable future. The only two medals in the Olympics came 52 years apart when Susanthika Jayasinghe was awarded the silver in the 200 metres at the 2000 Sydney Games after Duncan White won the country’s first ever medal when he finished second in the 400m hurdles at the 1948 Games in London.

As Susanthika reiterated, Sri Lanka would have to produce another phenomenon like her for Sri Lanka to even dream of another Olympic medal despite the loud boast of officials who believe their magic wand will do the trick. It did not need rocket science to foresee that Sri Lanka’s nine-member squad at the XXXII Olympiad would hardly make an impression in Tokyo. However, they had a convenient excuse – the global pandemic which even delayed the Games by a year. The Paralympians on the other hand were determined and hungry to bring glory to the nation.

In this backdrop, how did a former Sri Lankan soldier hailing from the rural heartland of North Central Province in Anuradhapura carve his name in gold with a monumental effort which woke up the entire nation to a new dawn on August 30.

“I hope to break the world record and win the gold medal,” said Dinesh Priyantha Herath, Sri Lanka’s flag-bearer at the XVI Summer Paralympics three weeks before the team’s departure to Tokyo.

It would have been dismissed as yet another foolhardy statement by Sri Lankans who have been immune to many such false dawns. Even though it came from a war veteran, revered in this country, the Sri Lankan public’s attitude to Para sports has been abysmal to say the least. In fact, despite having thousands of war wounded after a debilitating 30-year bloody conflict, Sri Lanka is yet to have public utilities for the benefit of the disabled or differently able in the country unlike in cities like Dubai or London who really care for those with special needs.


So from where did a 35-year-old father of three from a hamlet in Kekirawa who never took part in sports seriously even after he joined the Army in 2004 after completing his education at Kagama Dhathusena Maha Vidyalaya, get the courage of conviction to boldly declare that he would convert the bronze medal he won at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro into a gold. It turned out to be no idle boast.

In fact his coach for the past four years, Pradeep Nishantha affirmed that he was within touching distance of the Javelin F46 world record of 63.97 metres set by India’s Devendra Jhajharia when he renewed his own world mark during his gold medal winning throw in Rio. Herath derived confidence having recorded a personal best throw of 63.70m at the 2018 National Para Athletics Championship in Colombo.

“He is peaking at the right time. His training was not affected by the restrictions due to coronavirus since he was training with the elite pool in Colombo’s Torrington Sports Complex,” said Nishantha, who has been Sri Lanka’s national throwing coach since 2005.

“He has the potential to break the world record. He is our best prospect for a gold medal in Tokyo,” declared Nishantha, a former Sri Lanka record holder himself in the javelin and a silver medallist at the Asian Grand Prix.

Still it requires steely determination to live your dreams and execute your ambitions to perfection. Herath acquired plenty of this when he had to sacrifice the joys of childhood after being thrust into the role of breadwinner of the family having lost his father at the tender age of 12.


Enlisting in the Army’s elite infantry regiment Gajaba as a teenager, Herath displayed courage on the battlefield taking the initial steps to become a real war hero. Part of the Sri Lanka Army’s 57th Brigade during the humanitarian operation in 2008, he suffered three gunshot wounds to his left arm while defending his line against enemy fire in the town of Kilinochchi.

It required nearly four years of rehabilitation to piece together his injured hand. Having married just a few months before his injury, Herath must have contemplated a bleak future of living with a disability for the rest of his life. However, a man who put his life on the line for the country was in no mood to give up that easily.

With the encouragement from his superiors in the Army, he took part in badminton and volleyball becoming the best player in the inter-regiment Para Athletics competition in 2012, in addition to winning gold medals in the throwing event. His life-changing moment came when he picked up the javelin, throwing record distances in the F46 category at national and international level.

He won a gold medal throwing a distance of over 52m on his international debut in Malaysia in 2012. This event was a qualifier for the London 2012 Paralympics but he was not selected because he was not among the world rankings. He retired from the Army as a Corporal on medical grounds in 2014 but pursued his new-found passion by joining the Army Gajaba Sports Club.

Sixth in his event at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea and at the 2015 World Para Athletics Championship in Qatar, it nevertheless provided the spark to fuel his dream of going for the Paralympics. It became a reality when he threw a distance of 55.23m at an Olympic qualifying meet in Germany.

Sri Lanka’s record holder in the F46 javelin event came out all guns blazing in the Rio 2016 Paralympics to win a bronze medal which also earned him promotion to the rank of Sergeant.

Herath renewed his Sri Lanka record at the 2017 World Para Athletic Championships in London (59.93m), 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta (Games record of 61.84m) and at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championship in Dubai (60.59m).

“I have confidence in myself because of the training I received in the Army and my experiences in the war has given me strength and courage,” said the war veteran.

“Nothing is impossible if you train properly and work towards your target with determination by maintaining your fitness and avoiding unnecessary distractions,” said Herath who dared to create history in Tokyo.


The adage he who dares wins is aptly attributed to Dinesh Priyantha Herath Mudiyanselage who warmed up with a throw of 62.58m in his first attempt in Tokyo to take the lead ahead of world champion S. Gurjar of India (62.2m). Herath’s second throw fetched him a distance of 62.19m to maintain his lead but it was his record-breaking throw of 67.79m that obliterated the field of nine and is etched in the memories of Sri Lankans forever. Herath stole the show from firm favourite India’s Devendra Jhajharia, who settled for the silver with his best throw of 64.35. Jhajharia’s compatriot Sundar Singh Gurjar won the bronze medal in the same event with his best throw of 64.01.

Sri Lanka has produced a world billiards champion M.J.M. Lafir, Olympic medallists Duncan White and Susanthika Jayasinghe, emerged World Cup cricket champions in 1996 and 2014 but winning a gold medal with a world record surely takes the cake.

“It took me four years the piece my hand together. Those were the most testing times of my life. However, javelin has given me everything. It has helped me get my life back together and this gold is the result of all the hard work that I have put in,” said Herath whose deep scars from three bullet wounds are evident on his left arm.

“I am honoured to have represented my country at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and bring this victory home. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who supported me on my journey, including Hon. Namal Rajapaksa – Minister of Youth and Sports, Sports Ministry, my team, the National Paralympic Committee and our sponsor Dialog, for enabling this path towards victory for me and my team since the year 2000,” said Herath humbly.


However, there is one person that Herath dedicates this gold to: his wife. “I have three children and my wife looks after them very well. She motivates me. Our youngest child is only eight months old. My wife has done everything. She has given me freedom to do sport. I thank my wife for this gold,” he said.

Chef-de-Mission of the Sri Lanka Paralympics team Major General (Rtd) Rajitha Ampemohotti said the success of Herath in Tokyo was due to his non exposure to international events in the recent past.

“We never overexposed Herath to major international events but he continued with his training in a systematic way with the backing of the Sports Ministry,” he explained.

“Herath is a disciplined athlete and his dedication to the sport paved the way to win the gold medal,” added Ampemohotti.

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa in a congratulatory message said that Herath has emerged as a role model for all athletes on the art of the possible.

“Herath has already proved that we can achieve success at any level in international sporting events and his effort is a huge boost for all of us,” he said.

“Most of the time our athletes are looking for excuses but the Sri Lankan Para Athletes have provided the answer by setting an example for others,” he added lauding Herath for opening a new chapter in Sri Lanka sports.


Sri Lanka’s Paralympians have made giant strides since making their debut in 1996 Atlanta, with Pradeep Sanjaya creating history winning a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games. Although high performance in sports is associated with the Olympics, Paralympics has also become more competitive with Indian stars training in Finland.

“Actually it is equal to an Olympic gold because they don’t have any disability whereas Paralympians have some impairment or disability. To break a world record is an outstanding achievement. As a coach I feel it is equal to an Olympic gold medal. The Sri Lanka flag has never been hoisted before in an Olympics or Paralympics. Even Susanthika has said it is worth more than her silver medal. Dinesh Priyantha has changed the history of the sport. He has brought pride to the nation,” said coach Nishantha who revealed that Herath trains alongside able bodied athletes.

Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan, said American President John F. Kennedy. Dinesh Priyantha Herath will be treated like a hero in the day and months to come and showered with numerous rewards.

But thankfully Herath has his feet firmly on the ground and is not clamouring for riches.

“I am not valuing my medal in terms of monetary value. It is my strength and I am proud to win a gold medal for Sri Lanka at the Paralympics. My future ambition is to retain my title at the 2024 Paris Games and win gold at next year’s World Para Championship and Asian Games. This is a good era for sports in the country. Now it is up to the Para athletes to show their ability,” said Herath grateful to the state patronage given for Para sports.

Promoted from Corporal to Sergeant after winning a bronze in Rio, Herath gained promotion to a non-commissioned officer rank after his historic gold medal. No amount of rewards and recognition can replicate the magnitude of his feat. His was a tryst with destiny. Sri Lanka will be eternally grateful to this ‘super war hero’ and patriotic son of the soil who walked the talk to deliver on his promise on the biggest stage of all.

Herath the king who won a Gold with a world record