The New Times (Kigali)

19 August 2012

Rwanda: At the End of It All, East Africa Won

opinion

The Olympic Games finally came to an end but in a rather breathtaking style. For me it was quite breathtaking as it all happened in a manner I could not have guessed in my wildest dreams. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had gone with my mother to visit my elder sister.

As I was surfing through the TV channels, I landed on one that was airing the marathon competition live. At first, I didn't give it much thought but since other channels were focusing on repeats of those annoying Spanish telenovelas, I chose to stick with the marathon.

I soon noticed that there were three men leading the pack of athletes competing in this legendary race that now always comes at the end of the Olympics Games. They were all East Africans. Two of them shared the same nationality (Kenyan) and yet again two of them shared the same name (Kiprotich).

The world was simply being reminded that indeed the long endurance races remain a preserve of East Africa. Some people love to think that these races belong to Kenyans exclusively forgetting that Ethiopia (Which is in East Africa geographically) has for years claimed a slot in these races and produced some of the great names like Haile Gabreselassie.

Returning the marathon in London, at one point the Ugandan Kiprotich seemed to have lost some speed allowing the Kenyans to take charge of the race for some distance. Then like the legendary phoenix Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich clawed back the lost space and soon created more space between himself and the two Kenyans, who were now left to look at his back and spikes as he faded away in the distance.

My heart raced as I saw this unbelievable sight of a Ugandan leading the marathon as the Kenyans were doing the chasing. Something was not right I was sure. I feared that he would be overtaken and thus break our hearts the way the football team does each time by getting so close to qualification and then losing out.

Before I could come to terms with the fact that this determined Ugandan was about to rewrite history the smiling runner was literally holding Uganda's flag up high and racing towards the finish line. In an instant history was made, signed, sealed and framed.

The 23 year old Ugandan, Stephen Kiprotich had washed away the agony of Ugandans who had given up on gold medals for the last four decades. John Akii-Bua must have smiled in his grave now that his name will forever be mentioned alongside that of Stephen Kiprotich.

On top of watching live, the historic run by Kiprotich, I made the trip to Entebbe International Airport to welcome Uganda's latest hero as he returned to Uganda. The marathon champion jetted in aboard a British Airways flight. I had to be part of this historic moment just in case I have to wait another 40 years for a similar feat to happen.

To cut the long story short, the runner who had left for the games unknown returned to a country where his name was on everyone's lips. He was rewarded with an $80,000 cheque and a promise to construct a three-bed roomed house for his parents by President Museveni.

He also got himself promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Prisons from a mere warder in Uganda Prisons. Other prizes have included a one year membership at the Kampala Serena hotel's state of the art Maisha gym and lots of cash from corporate companies and individuals.

Of course some of our Kenyan brothers felt bad that a race they had gotten so used to winning had to be won by a Ugandan. But here is the deal, Kenya is also a winner for having allowed Uganda's (he is 100% Ugandan) Stephen Kiprotich to train in their country.

In doing that they created a new champion for their neighbours. Indeed even Rwandans are now considering to train in Kenya from now on. Those who thought that the sight of a Ugandan named Kiprotich was similar to that of a Briton named Mohammed Farah or an American named Bernard Lagat could not have been more wrong.

We all know that as the wise men in Berlin were drawing our borders they split communities. Before the games began there were Ugandans in Kapchorwa and Sebei area with names similar to many Kalenjins in Kenya. Stephen Kiprotich was one of them and we should celebrate him as a successful East African.

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