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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More