Uganda’s Sports Heroes

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By Arthur Musinguzi

The late John Akii-Buashocked the world in 1972 as the Olympic Global Champion;he was Uganda’s biggest Olympic success and the country’s only gold medal holder at the Olympics. Aged only 22 and weighing 76kgs, Akii-Bua astonished the world and global champion, Britain’s David Hemery. He beat the Briton in the 400m hurdles at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich in a new world record of 47.82s. This was the greatest victory in the history of sports in our country ever. His demanding training paid off when he broke Hemery’s then world record of 48.1s en route to gold sadly; he died on June 20th, 1997. Uganda hanged on to this gold medal for 40 years until 2012 when another Ugandan brought home gold.

In 2012 during the London Olympics another little known Ugandan surprised the world when he beat his competitors to gold. This took Uganda unawares; there was a rower across the country that afternoon as Ugandans watched from across the country. The few Ugandans who were at the Olympics almost missed history being made as many of them did not expect any win for Uganda. I guess Stephen Kiprotich himself couldn’t believe what he had just done. When he looked back and realized he had crossed the finish line first and had left the rest at a safe distance he knelt down raised the flag as a way of thanking God. This is a moment every Ugandan will always cherish.

Stephen Kiprotich23 had broken free from two Kenyans Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang on the 37-km mark. He had raced on to finish first in 2:08:01 seconds and won Uganda’s only second gold medal at the Olympics after 40 years. He was automatically a sports hero. He was given VIP treatment on his return and a lot of money was collected for him as a ‘thank you’. Every corporate company wanted a piece of him. Uganda Prisons where he served quickly elevated his ranks and indeed his life didn’t remain the same. To cement his place as the world’s greatest athlete, Kiprotich went on to win gold at the 2013 IAAF Moscow World Championships.

In the women’s category a name DorcusInzikuru resounds. This courageous lady won the introductory world title in women’s 3,000m steeplechase at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Again, it had been 33 years since Uganda had won such a prize in this particular category. Inzikuru set a time of 9:18.24. She only became aware of the $60,000 prize after winning the final. In 2006, she won the Oeiras International Cross Country meeting. Inzikuru returned to competition, she won an 800m race at Namboole on June 6, 2009, with a time of 2:12.0. She did qualify for London 2012 Olympics although she did not bring home any medals. She made a mark on the girl child in Uganda. Many female athletes came out of their shells after her, and moregirls embraced sports and believed in their abilities to soar. DorcusInzikuru is definitely a name many Ugandans recognize. It’s respected in the sports world.

More to that, the former Cranes captain Ibrahim Sekagya is now regarded the model footballer for any aspiring Ugandan footballer. Sekagya is ranked up there alongside the late Paul Hasule. He has more than 20 years of experience with a number of clubs like; The New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg, State House, KCC, Argentina’s Athletico de Rafaela, Ferro CarrillOeste and Arsenal De Sarandi.Sekagya, who quit international football in 2012, captained Red Bull Salzburg to their seventh and his third Austrian Bundesliga title in the same year. He is remembered for his discipline, ball dribbling and distributing skills, fantastic game reading and his serenity in calming storms. He is currently working as one of the coaches at New York Red Bulls.

Maj Gen Francis Nyangweso a boxer, soldier, did it all and his boxing faculty won him friends with former president Idi Amin. In his mid-30sNyangweso, was already a successful boxer internationally. He also went on to become chairperson of the National Council of Sports, Chief of Staff in the Ugandan Army, served as Defence Minister, plus minister of Culture and Community Development in Amin’s government. Nyangweso was a lightweight national champion from 1954 until he retired undefeated in 1963.  He represented Uganda in the Millington Drake Trophy against Kenya from 1958-1963 during which six-year period Nyangweso won all his bouts by knockouts. On the international scene, he lost ‘controversially’ according to Sports in Uganda, at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff and at the 1960 Rome World Olympics but was to make amends, winning a gold medal in the Israel Hapeal Games a year later.

In the sports world the name Moses Kipsiro also commands a lot of respect. Kipsiro won two gold medals in the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. He was to set his own Commonwealth record, becoming the first man to defend the 10,000m title at the Glasgow Games. He did participate at the 2012 London Olympics in London but fell short in both 5,000m and 10,000m. Kipsiro also represented Uganda at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, coming forth in 5,000m. His efforts cannot be ignored as he has inspired a score of athletes and held our country’s flag high.

Does the name PhionaMutesi ring a bell? This chess champion with a humble background has made her mark in the games and sports world. Phiona played six rounds on board 2 and one round on board one for Uganda at the 39th Chess Olympiad, scoring 1.5 points from the seven,and as of 2012 she was a three-time junior girls’ champion of Uganda.In 2012, Phiona and Ivy Amoko earned Woman Candidate Master (WCM) titles as a result of their performances at the 40th Chess Olympiad, making them the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history.That same year Phiona became the first female player to win the open category of the National Junior Chess Championship in Uganda.

In September 2013, Mutesi played against LutaayaShafiq Holmes of Makerere University, whom she beat and thus took the trophy in the Uganda National Junior Chess Championship of 2013. A book ‘The Queen of Katwe’ was written about Phiona’s life and it was later a film was shot.

I can keep on writing without repeating myself about the great sports men and women the country has had. The likes of Moses Golola, a self-made entertainer and kickboxer known for building his personal brand and drawing Ugandans to the game of kick boxing. KarimHirji one of the best drivers in the country during his time, John Mugabi ‘The Beast’ he is a former world light-middleweight champion. Sam WalusimbiWalusimbi is undoubtedly the greatest cricketer Uganda has ever produced. Ayub Kalule was the first man from the Commonwealth countries to win gold at the maiden World Amateur Boxing Championships in 1974. Patrick Kawooya born in 1947, Kawooya is perhaps the only other man you can mention in just about the same breath with BidandiSsali regarding sports administration. Leo Rwabwogo, remains the only Ugandan to ever win two Olympic medals. Grace Sseruwagi is regarded as Uganda’s best ever boxing coach. Therefore heroes are not only those in combat but everyone making a difference wherever they are.

 

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