by Eric Motha
Belle Wirekoon departed this world two years ago and her 90th birthday fell on June 16, 2018. She was born in Kandy and blessed with five sisters and a brother. Belle had her education at Hillwood College, Kandy and St. Paul’s Milagiriya, Colombo 04.
Many tributes were paid to Belle by sportswriters and TT contemporaries applauding her unique achievements when she strode the stage like a colossus during her glittering career spanning three decades (1948 to 1978).
TT players and enthusiasts of varying vintage continue to be steeped in admiration and awe at Belle’s incredible feats in annexing the National Women’s title 13 times and filling the runner-up berth on 12 occasions.
In addition to her dominance among the ladies, Belle also won the Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles titles partnering reputed players of her era. In the annals of table tennis in the country which commenced in the early 1940’s Belle Wirekoon’s unsurpassed record will stand as a perennial tribute to her stature vanquishing several younger contenders to win the race to the victory podium.
In a brief reminisce some of Belle’s contemporaries were the Pestonjee sisters, Mrs. VP Siriwardene, Grace Somasunderam, Neela Singham, Indra and Bhsi Jilla, Frances Ratnayake, Nandini Daniel, Pesi Pestonjee, Charlie Daniel, Anto Fernandopulle, Paul Thambinayagam, Dick and Sam Schoorman, NM Lakdawala, Suresh Melvani, Dr.Buddy Reid, Annesley Gomez, Nimo Ramchand, Jothipala Samaraweera, NH Perera, Angelo Santiago, Deepak Naraindas and Firoz Nilam.
Belle won the women’s title in 1951 and retained it until 1954 when she commenced plans to proceed to England in quest of learning more of the game.
Belle represented Sri Lanka at a host of competitions and championships overseas including the Asian Games (1964), Ganefo Games (’63/64) and the Asian Championships (1974) in Japan.
Belle was attached to the US Embassy for 20 years and continued her victory trail leading her team in the tournaments conducted by the Mercantile TT Association outclassing opposition with ease.
PERSONALITY PARADE -TT BELLE
This was the caption in the welcome extended to Belle by the English Table Tennis Association in their popular newsletter. The article referred to the 27 year old slender tall girl who resigned from a well paid job in the metropolitan city of Colombo and traversed 7000 miles to England solely motivated by her desire to improve her game under the expert guidance of Jack Carrington, the Director of Coaching to the English Table Tennis Association. The young aspirant had assiduously saved sufficient funds over 4 years to pay for her travel and arrived in England in September 1955. During her brief tenure in England Belle resided with her sister Yvonne and in her insatiable thirst for practice and competition participated in tournaments conducted in East of England, Sussex and Eastern suburban open tournaments losing after a hard fought duel to Welsh International Shirley Jones and Barbara Millbank. It is relevant to mention that on the eve of her departure to England, Belle Wirekoon was ranked 8th womens’ player in the Indian sub continent and her dream was to rise to the rank of No. 1 player after her return.
In brief hindsight Belle Wirekoon never clamoured for public recognition and opted to lead a life of quietude in Ekala, Ja-Ela after holding center stage for 3 decades a feat which may never be equalled or surpassed.
*Former Secretary, Board of Control for TT in Sri Lanka.