17 September 2012

Uganda: Olympic Gold Medalist an Inspiration Ambassador

In no time, Ugandan long-distance runner Stephen Kiprotich has shot to fame. More than a month after winning the men's marathon during the London 2012 Olympic Games, he carries on being a source of inspiration for a whole generation in the central African country.

The 23-year old athlete broke Uganda's 40-year Olympic jinx last month when he won gold in the Marathon event at the 2012 London Olympics. The last and only other Ugandan gold medal winner at the Olympics was late John Akii Bua in 1972 in Munich, Germany.

Kiprotich, who has not only become a national hero and household name, got a US$80,000 (61,000 euros) reward from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. State-run daily New Vision newspaper claimed on its website to have raised over US$120,000 (91,500 euros) from public and corporate donations for the athlete, and is aiming to collect a total of $500,000 (381,500 euros). Uganda's GDP per capita stands at around $500 (381 euros), according to the World Bank.

And his win in London influenced even his professional career as a prison warden. Last week, the athlete was promoted to assistant superintendant of prisons.

Beyond sport

But outside the limelight, it is Kiprotich's positive influence on young Ugandans that deserves the biggest thumb up.

Matthew Odada, a 14-year-old student and one of the top swimmers at Sseta High School in the Mukono District says Kiprotich's win in London is inspirational. "Seeing an Olympic medal being won by a Ugandan proves that I can also win one, if I work hard. If Kiprotich could do it, many other youth here can also do it," he adds.

The overwhelming welcome Kiprotich received on his return from London at the Entebbe International Airport, followed by his breakfast with President Museveni, have made a tremendous impact on many of his countrymen. It goes even beyond the realm of sports.

Dan Mutyaba and Justine Nagujja both sell second-hands clothes in Owino market in Kampala. They said to see how hard Kiprotich worked for his medal can only encourage them to work even harder and turn them into achievers just like him.

Inspiration ambassador

And an achiever, he surely is. Back in August, he joined the ranks of world renowned sports personalities like footballer David Beckham and former British world record holder Colin Jackson after being appointed an ambassador of International Inspiration - London 2012's international sports legacy programme aiming at inspiring and enabling millions of young people around the world to play sport. The programme is funded by the British Council, UNICEF and UK Sports.

Ambassador Kiptorich will spearhead a number of projects to inspire young kids like Stella Atai, a pupil at Kampala Kitante Primary.

Atai is only six and she is ready to take sport more seriously after Kiprotich's triumph. "Look at how Kirprotich is now known all over Uganda and the rest of the world. Because he has proved that winning against the best is possible, I will now train harder. And I will balance that with a good education," she says proudly.

Atai and the rest of Uganda won't have to wait long before their role model gives them another boost of inspiration. Kiprotich has been invited as chief guest at the Hengshui Lake International Marathon in China to be held on 22 September, and many have already given him the gold medal.

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