A man with a cool head and a firing heart, a proud champion with a charming smile that epitomizes humility, Heshan Unamboowe has been synonymous with Sri Lankan aquatics for the past decade.

Now with just only three months to reach the pinnacle of his career – 2012 London Summer Olympics, I thought of unleashing the tale of this extraordinary sportsman.

Heshan got into the waters of Trinity College as a kid without knowing that he’ll have to spend half of his life there like an amphibian. Yet since then it has become his destiny. As a kid he easily surpassed swimmers who were much older to him and in no time there was only a handful in the country to challenge his might. Up at 4 am everyday plunging into the cold Kandy waters and living a life with chlorine_ the swimmer’s inescapable perfume was no easy task. But Heshan was a promising boy who always lived up to expectations by stamping his authority on the local swimming scene.

Once the then British principal of Trinity Rod Gilbert mentioned, “Heshan Unamboowe breaks records like your mothers break coconuts.” Setting new heights and winning accolades became a habit to Heshan and he was frequently featured as the back page headline on newspapers. Ultimately this young man was exposed to stardom at a very tender age.

In time, Heshan became the second youngest person in the history to win the coveted “Trinity Lion” after bagging couple of bronze medals at the South Asian Games in 2006. He was just 14 at that time and carried on the momentum by winning 5 medals (1 gold 3 silver 1 bronze) at Asian Age Group Championships. At an age where upcoming sportsmen get carried away with fame and publicity, this swimmer put his head down and always worked harder to reach the next level. He is a great example to athletes who lose their heads in the spotlight.


Heshan Unamboowe with Michael Phelps

As time passed by, Heshan gradually improved with maturity. He constantly battled out with himself to raise the bar in his performances when external challenge was a scarcity. As a result at the dawn of year 2010 he earned the tag as champion swimmer in the island. With the weight of expectation upon his shoulders, he swam at the Dhaka South Asian Games. There he managed to showcase wonders by winning 5 medals (1 gold 3 silver 1 bronze) out of which the 100m backstroke was a new South Asian record. Later this year he participated in the Delhi Commonwealth Games and continued his great form by qualifying for the Semi Finals.  He was ranked 14th overall. He also represented the country in 2010 Asian Games in Doha Qatar and Guangzhou China. The dream run didn’t end there. Heshan had the rare distinction of leading the Sri Lankan delegation in the first ever Youth Olympics in Singapore. According to him it was one of the most memorable occasions in life. In a nutshell, Heshan has clearly lived up to what a particular poet once wrote about him:

“For him the word ‘Felicitation’ was not so new, ’cause medals for him were like morning dew..”

Apparently the year 2010 is the apex of his career but many believe that his best is yet to come. The following year was not so glamorous, having been made to work hard to reach the ultimate goal. Currently he undergoes intense training at the Nunawading Swimming Club in Melbourne. His aim is to be the first Sri Lankan swimmer to enter Olympics on the standard selection criteria. There are 2 sets of times, Olympic Qualifying time and Olympic Invitation time. “The times for my pet event, the 100m backstroke are, 54.40 and 56.30 respectively. So far none of the Sri Lankan swimmers have made either one in the history of Olympics so it would be an achievement if I could make it. With the training I’m undergoing at the moment hopefully I’ll be able to reach my goal. I’m thankful to the President of the NOC Mr. Hemasiri Fernando and the Secretary General Mr. Maxwell De Silva for giving me this opportunity.”

Heshan is coming from a school which has produced a number of supreme Olympians over the years including the first ever Olympic medalist for Ceylon, Duncan White. He takes honour in being a part of this celebrated list of gentlemen who has participated in the greatest spectacle on earth.


 Heshan Unamboowe and TCK Swimming Team 2011

Years of dedication, sacrifice and commitment comes down to this summer for Heshan. He’ll have to compete with the likes of Michael Phelps,Nick D’Arcy,Ian Thorpe and Tim Phillips. It is no easy task and one should be realistic about the magnitude of the challenge. But he is determined to put up a splendid performance.

Many people have supported and inspired Heshan over the years. Swimming is a sport which needs lot of discipline and punctuality. His mother had to drive him for training at 5 in the morning and drive him back home at 6 in the evening. Heshan’s controlled diet is prepared with great care by his mother and his father who is employed overseas supplies him with all necessities. This is just a glimpse of the many a sacrifice his family is making behind all glitz and glamour. Furthermore, Mr. Pemlath Hewage has been a tower of strength by looking into the technical element. Lot of people have shredded blood, sweat and tears for him and this warrior has paid gratitude by creating marvels in the pool. For all of them he has this to say, “Hands down the most inspiring people of my life. They’re the reason I’ve come so far in life. They’ve been supporting me ever since I got in the pool as a toddler and I just can’t thank them enough for being there for me whenever I needed their love and guidance.” 

Heshan Unamboowe with a junior at school

It is also significant to note that Heshan Unamboowe is not just a great swimmer but a genuine all-rounder. He is a fully fledged gentleman who has groomed every aspect of his personality to be a fine sports ambassador of the nation. As a scholar he obtained 8 A passes at the GCE Ordinary Levels. Currently he is expecting to get into an Ivy League university in the US. “I want to study engineering there because that has been my passion ever since I was a kid.” He has tremendous eloquence and is a creative photographer who passionately continues it as a hobby. But above everything what stands out is his humility. I’ve had the privilege of observing him from a higher altitude for over a year. He is more of a man of value than a man of success.

He knows to give respect to gain. Simply if you meet him down the road you wouldn’t realize that he’s a champion. The masterpieces he draws by the sequence of his hands and legs are limited to the boundaries of a water cube. In real life he’s blessed and loved by everybody for being a down to earth character. That has been the key and which is more has made Heshan Bandara Unamboowe into a meritorious sportsman of our time.

Article Written By – Choliya Bandara (2010 Senior Prefect of Trinity College)


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Published 12 years ago by Choliya Bandara

Posted in Alumni, News, Sports, Swimming

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