26 July 2012

Uganda's Ultimate Guide to London Olympics

Photo: New Vision
Benjamin Kiplaga, left.

The 2012 London Olympics are upon us and Team Uganda is represented by sixteen athletes. Here is The Observer guide to each team member.

Janet Achola: 1500m

Date of birth: June 26, 1988

Personal best: 4:05.52

Career highlight: Achola is yet to make a mark on the international scene but biggest achievement to date is qualifying for the Olympics back in May. And she did so in style by reclaiming the national record from Annet Negesa in Hengelo, Netherlands. Never mind she only managed fifth in that race.

Rivals: Ethiopian world indoor champ Genzebe Dibaba and her compatriot Abeba Aregawi as well as Russian Elena Soboleva. However, it should be welcome news for Achola that Moroccan Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, holder of the world's leading time this year, has been banned from the Games after failing a drugs test.

Prospect: Achola has nothing to lose and everything to gain. A massive underdog, she enters the event with the 72nd fastest time of the year but for an athlete on the rise. That said, the 24-year-old is on a meteoric rise and that's evidenced by the fact that she has slashed off more than five seconds of her personal best in space of just one year. If she manages to lower by another three seconds, chances are high she could end up in the medal bracket.

Jacob Araptany: 1500m & 3000m steeplechase

Date of birth: February 11, 1994

Personal bests: 3:36.16 (1500m), 8:14.48 (3000m)

Career highlight: At just 18, Araptany is still an upstart but the closest he came to international glory was at last year's World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. In the 3000m steeplechase, he finished a credible sixth in a competitive field beating 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Richard Mateelong.

Rivals: The 3000m steeplechase is traditionally a Kenyan event. Reigning Olympic champion Brimin Kiprop Kipruto, his predecessor Ezekiel Kemboi and Abel Mutai are favourites.

Prospect: "My target is the 3000m steeplechase. That is what I'm looking forward to," said Araptany moments after hitting the 1500m world mark at last year's national championships in Namboole. Therefore, it's clear where the hopes - if any for the 3000m steeplechase African junior bronze medalist lie. A highly-tactical discipline, him and Benjamin Kiplagat will have to work hand-in-hand.

Thomas Ayeko: 10000m

Date of birth: February 10, 1992

Personal best: 27:43.22

Career highlight: Ayeko made his entrance on the international scene at last year's World Cross Country Championships in Spain, where he won a silver medal in the junior race.

Rivals: The great Kenenisa Bekele, Britain's Mo Farah and the Kenyan contingent of Wilson Kiprop, holder of the world's leading time and Moses Ndiema Masai, bronze medalist from Beijing 2008.

Prospect: With all due credit, Ayeko is in London to learn from the experts. At best, his main role will be protecting and pacesetting for Uganda's biggest medal prospect Moses Kipsiro.

Edwin Ekiring: Badminton

Date of birth: December 22, 1983

Personal best: Currently ranked 93rd in the world, it's his highest ever

Career highlight: The 'Black Pearl' has won quite a number of tournaments - particularly in Africa - but the highlight of his career must be reaching the last 16 at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Rivals: China's world and Olympic champ Lin Dan, his compatriots Chen Long and Chen Jin as well as Malaysia's World silver medalist Lee Chong Wei.

Prospect: In reality, Ekiring is playing for pride and is lucky to be at the Games. Just recently, his hopes of participation hung by a thread following a $400 fine that arose from his failure to participate in two international tournaments. However, the Uganda Olympic Committee bailed him out by paying the fine but on a competitive level, he will be no match in this Asian-dominated sport.

Docus Inzikuru: 3000m steeplechase

Date of birth: February 02, 1982

Personal best: 09:15.04

Career highlight: Back in 2005, she destroyed the field to win the inaugural Women's 3,000 metres Steeplechase in what then was a world record. To this date, she remains Uganda's only gold medal winner in the World Championships.

Rivals: Russia's world champion Yuliya Zarudneva Zaripova, Kenyan Commonwealth gold medalist Milcah Chemos Cheywa as well as Ethiopians Sofia Assefa and Hiwot Ayalew.

Prospect: She has been around for quite a long time but it's clear the best days are behind her. She struggled to hit the qualifying mark and her season best of 9:30.95 is a whopping 23 seconds behind Cheywa's leading time this year.

Benjamin Kiplagat: 3000m steeplechase

Date of birth: March 04, 1989

Personal best: 8:03.81

Career highlight: At the recent African Championships, Kiplagat ran his lungs out to claim bronze.

Rivals: As mentioned earlier, the 3000m steeplechase is virtually a reserve for Kenyans. Reigning Olympic champion Brimin Kiprop Kipruto, his predecessor Ezekiel Kemboi and Abel Mutai are favourites.

Prospect: Uganda's only medalist from the 2012 African Championships taking part in the Games(Sarah Nambawa won gold in the triple-jump but failed to make the qualifying mark), Kiplagat has what it takes to repeat the feat given that the biggest rivals are Africans.

Abraham Kiplimo: 5000m

Date of birth: April 14, 1989

Personal best: 13:10.40

Career highlight: The 23-year-old finished eighth at last year's World Championships.

Rivals: Ethiopians Bekele, Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet plus Great Britain's Farah and Isiah Koech of Kenya.

Prospect: Like Ayeko in the 10000m, Kiplimo is on a learning experience and will be out to help Kipsiro.

Stephen Kiprotich: Marathon

Date of birth: February 27, 1989

Personal best: 2:07:20

Career highlight: Last year, not only did he win the prestigious Enschede Marathon in Netherlands, he did so in a course record that stands to this day

Rivals: Kenyan world champion Abel Kirui and his countrymen Emmanuel Mutai and Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, the 2012 London Marathon champion.

Moses Ndiema Kipsiro: 5000m & 10000m

Date of birth: September 02, 1986

Personal bests: 12:50.72 (5000m), 27:04.48 (10000m)

Career highlight: He is the Commonwealth Champion in 5000m & 10000m.

Rivals: Ethiopians Bekele, Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet plus Farah and Koech

Prospect: He is Uganda's only realistic medal winner but even his best has failed to match his lofty standards this season. Kipsiro has gained more success in the 5000m even though he lacks the final kick over the last 200m. However, if he can keep pace with the leaders till the final 100m, Kipsiro will have a real sniff at a medal if not clinching the ultimate prize.

The absence of pacemakers means everyone will be on his own but with the Kenyans and Ethiopians likely to employ an intricate form of teamwork that ensures the favourites run in clear air, Kipsiro will also require fellow Ugandans to a similar advantage. But that will greatly depend on how many (if any) make the final.

Geofrey Kusiro: 5000m

Date of birth: February 12, 1989

Personal best: 13:12.32

Career highlight: He may be young but Kusuro is an experienced runner but with little to show for. His best came at the 2008 World Junior Championships where he finished fourth but is yet to fulfill the potential.

Rivals: Ethiopians Bekele, Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet plus Farah and Koech

Prospect: Kusuro is one of only four athletes returning to the Olympics but whether he can improve from the first round of heats remains to be seen.

Jamila Lunkuse: Swimming Women's 50m Freestyle

Date of birth: January 01, 1997

Career highlight: She may have won four medals, including a gold in the 15-16 age group at the 2011 African Championships but no doubt Lunkuse biggest achievement is winning a wildcard invitation to the Games.

Rivals: To say that she is rivaling Americans and Australians is flattering. Lunkuse's real competitors are fellow wildcards mainly from Africa.

Prospect: "Hopefully, I will get my personal best - I don't expect to get a medal because I'm a bit young," so said Lunkuse after qualifying for the Games. Only 15, the Plymouth-based swimmer is one of the youngest athletes at the Games but also one of the least expected to leave a mark.

Ganzi Mugula: Swimming Men's 50m Freestyle

Date of birth: July 24, 1979

Career highlight: Without any previous achievements on the international scene worth noting, it's definitely got to be winning a wildcard for the Games.

Rivals: Like Lunkuse, Mugula is simply fulfilling the Olympic spirit of participation.

Prospect: The Team Uganda captain has already ruled out any chance of winning a medal and the one lap he will make in the Olympic pool will surely be a memorable one

Julius Mutekanga: 800m

Date of birth: December 01, 1987

Personal best: 1:46.30

Career highlight: Mutekanga is untested and is still yet to make a mark on the world scene. That said, reached the semifinal at the 2012 World Indoor Championships,

Rivals: This is a one-man race in which Kenyan David Rudisha is widely expected to win gold. Sudan's Abubaker Kaki is another threat so is Botswana's Nijel Amos, the second-fastest man this year.

Prospect: With all due respect, Mutekanga is using the Games as a stepping stone for future success.

Annet Negesa: 800m

Date of birth: April 24, 1992

Personal best: 1:59.08

Career highlight: Negesa was a relative unknown when she won bronze at the 2010 World Junior Championships

Rivals: In one of the most eagerly anticipated races, Negesa has her work cut out against Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo, Janeth Jepkosgei and South Africa's 2009 world champion Caster Semenya.

Prospect: If there is any Ugandan athlete that has an element of surprise, it's Negesa. She has a tendency of burning herself out in the heats and fading in the final. The double African junior champion in the 800m and 1500m needs to time her last kick to perfection

Charles Ssekyaaya: Men's 62 kg Weightlifting

Date of birth: April 11, 1994

Personal best: Total 246 (105 in Snatch and 141 in Clean & Jerk)

Career highlight: Ssekyaaya is a man on the rise. Back in March, he struck gold in the Clean & Jerk category at the 2012 African weightlifting championships and is a worthy receiver of a wildcard for the Games.

Rivals: Chinese world record holder Zhang Jie is favourite. Erol Bilgin of Turkey and 2010 world champion Kim Un-Guk are also solid contenders.

Prospect: The beauty about weightlifting is that Ssekyaaya is up against only 15 competitors but surely, Ssekyaaya's best is now where near the medal mark.

Jane Suuto: Marathon

Date of birth: August 08, 1978

Personal best: 2:37:43

Career highlight: After previous qualification failures, Suuto finished third in the Riga Marathon in Latvia back in May. More importantly, her time of 2:42.07 was enough to qualify her for the London Games.

Rivals: Kenyan world champion Edna Kiplagat, Rotterdam marathon winner Tiki Gelana from Ethiopia and her compatriot Aselefech Mergia.

Prospect: The oldest member on the team, Suuto also competes in the longest and most exhausting race.

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