News / Africa

Athletes Hope Olympic Gold Inspires Change in Uganda

Men's marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda marches into closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 12, 2012.Men's marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda marches into closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 12, 2012.
x
Men's marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda marches into closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 12, 2012.
Men's marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda marches into closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 12, 2012.
KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandans are celebrating their first Olympic gold medalist since 1972, when John Akii Bua won under Idi Amin's dictatorship. Things have become more difficult for Ugandan athletes, however, since Amin’s time.

As Ugandan marathon runner Stephen Kiprotich took his place on the gold medal podium on the final day of the London Olympics, the whole world watched as the Ugandan national anthem rang out in the Olympic stadium.

It was an emotional moment for many Ugandans, one for which they had been waiting for 40 years.

At least one person in Kampala had tears in his eyes when he heard Kiprotich had won.

“After 40 years, this was amazing. And hearing our national anthem being sung in the stadium, it was so great and so amazing. You can’t imagine - 40 years back! We are so happy," said the man. "You find like, the United States took about 90 medals, but they are not happy like us who took one, because it was unexpected.”

Forty-year wait for gold

Until last Sunday, Uganda’s only gold medalist was Akii Bua, the 400-meter hurdler who won in Munich in '72. At that time Uganda was a new and little-known country, and Akii Bua’s victory took the world by surprise.

Now he is remembered as a national hero. But several years after Munich, afraid for his life, Akii Bua was forced to flee the increasingly brutal and paranoid regime of Idi Amin. He spent some time in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Germany.

The notorious dictator’s obsession with all things physical is one of the reasons Akii Bua won gold in the first place. Amin took a personal interest in sports, and would often visit the athletes himself. As Beatrice Ayikoru of the Uganda Athletics Federation explains, this meant more resources for sports.

“Idi Amin was a sportsman. I think he was a boxer. And I think he has also seen how sports was used to unite the people, to market the country, and all those values. At that time things were different. There was money for sportsmen,” said Ayikoru.

Past emphasis on athletics, training

When Akii Bua won his medal in the 1970s, it was the golden age of Ugandan athletics. The country was full of sports clubs. The police, the army and the private sector all trained their own athletes, hired professional coaches and provided facilities. Akii Bua himself was a police officer, and his British coach was employed by the government.

While few mourn the passing of such a bloodthirsty regime, Ayikoru said Ugandan athletics have suffered since Amin was overthrown in 1979.

“All banks removed sports clubs. The government institutions like police, prisons and army reduced spending on sports. The private sector that was there completely dropped sports. So that was the beginning of the challenge for many sportsmen and women, because without a financier you cannot perform,” said Ayikoru.

The lack of resources has taken its toll. Today, Uganda’s athletics coaches are all volunteers. And many of the sports facilities built in Amin’s time are deteriorating. The country’s only decent track is in the national stadium in Kampala, and it often is used for other things.

Competing interests take precedence

Ugandan sprinter Ali Ngaimoko said that just last June, the Uganda Athletics Federation was told they could not use the stadium for their national championships because of a gospel concert.

“Our national championships, can you imagine? So there was some event [and] we were kicked out. We had to go and use grass. And most of our athletes, like the sprinters, that was the last chance for them to hit the time to be in the Olympics,” said Ngaimoko.

Uganda has long stood in the shadow of neighboring Kenya, whose athletic superstars and world-class facilities attract media attention and sportsmen from around the world. Western Kenya’s high-altitude training centers are where elite Ugandan athletes like Kiprotich go to train.

Ayikoru said facilities like these not only improve athletes, but also can create them.

‘The youth, they are inspired. They see these people running every day. It makes it very easy for them to be identified. So they join them, and many of them come up,” said Ayikoru.

Changing mindset taking hold

But Ayikoru said there are plans underway to build a similar center in eastern Uganda. She hopes this will inspire young Ugandans to take up athletics, and allow them to do their training at home.

For his part, Ngaimoko hopes this year’s gold medal will open people’s eyes to the talent in Uganda, and make it easier for athletes like himself to compete.

“I’m pretty sure things are going to change. Because you know, we had been waiting for that for so long. This time around, at least our flag is up. We are very happy. Ugandans are very happy,” he said.

When Kiprotich crossed the finish line on Sunday, the Ugandan flag streaming over his head, he may have overcome even greater odds than Akii Bua himself.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid