Asoka Goonatilleke | (Pic by Kelum C Nelumdeniya)

A journalist needs to be bold, if he is to break free from the monotonous compulsive way he writes stories for newspapers. Veteran sports journalist Asoka Goonatilleke did just that. But unlike most journalists turned writers, he didn’t move away from journalism. He chose to wear two ‘armbands’-one that highlights his love for sports literature and the other that keeps his nose sharp enough to pick up what’s news.

This time around, he has come out with a book titled  Legends All which brings readers inside information of 23 selected local sports personalities. “Books are my way of giving back something to society,” is how Goonatilleke began an interview with Nation during which he recalled some of the cherished events in a career in media which spanned 37 long years.

He recalled how one day, while travelling in a bus, an athlete had got it with his spikes slung over his neck. On inquiring what event he participated, the athlete had said he was practicing for the 400 metres sprint event. They had clicked like a magnet attracting metal during a brief, but very import conversation. Goonatilleke had asked him the name of the current national champ in 400 metres and the present national record among other questions. The athlete seemed lost for answers as Goonatilleke’s words hit him akin to an amateur boxer watching helplessly in the face of an onslaught by a professional fighter. “This was one of the events which convinced me that the information about history and people who have made it happen must be penned down in book form. I consider Legends All as the flagship book out of all my publications,” said the veteran scribe who is now retired. For the record, Goonatilleke has penned five books among which the publication  Palamuweniya won the Presidential Award for the Most Outstanding Sports Publication in 2015.

He said he sat down to write the book last December and worked around the clock to complete it in a few months. According to the author, he had only to put in the effort and the earmarked sports personalities had been more than willing to cooperate in sharing their experiences in their chosen disciplines.

Among the 23 sports personalities who have caught the attention of the writer, one personality who features prominently in the book is Olympic silver medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe. “I have been fortunate enough to have had many conversations with her. When she won the Silver medal (Initially a bronze) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I was surprised, but not Susanthika. She was determined,” is how he recalled that memorable race where the Sri Lankan lass ran faster to beat some of the much fancied athletes who contested the 200-sprint final. Asked about what he liked most about Susanthika, the author had this to say, “Susanthika talks to the point”.

Surprisingly though, Goonatilleke’s latest publication doesn’t feature the much-praised sports minister S.B. Dissanayake, who was in office when Susanthika produced this feat. “Undoubtedly, S.B. Dissanayake can be rated as the best sports minister the country has had. It was during his time that Sri Lanka was able to produce an Olympic medal winning athlete. He was successful because of one standout feature. He never postponed things,” said Goonatilleke. The author rates Jayasinghe’s silver medal won at the Olympics higher than the 1996 World Cup win at cricket because the sprint queen produced this feat as an individual athlete.

Now retired from active journalism, Goonatilleke finds time to engage in writing books. He still reads newspapers and said he was shocked to hear the story of former football captain UB Channa digging graves for a living. “This is the plight Sri Lankan sportsmen who decide to pursue a sport other than cricket. Those who represent the country at cricket get enough media attention and are looked after, but not others who engage in other disciplines. This is why it’s important that media personnel write about other sports as well and pen stories with compassion and not with sensationalism in mind,” said Goonatilleke who was the founder sports editor of Divaina, a publication of Upali Newspapers PVT. Ltd.

Legends All will be launched under the patronage of Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekare  at the BMICH (Malaka Medura Auditorium) on September 8.