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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs