24 December 2012

Uganda: Success Story - 2012 Athletics Review

Uganda Athletics Federation was everyone's envy in 2012. The athletics body was undoubtedly Uganda's most successful sports body. Stephen Kiprotich delivered the big prize - a gold medal at the London Olympics.

Memories are still fresh of the lean runner striding to Uganda's first Olympic gold medal in 40 years.

The last time Uganda had attracted global attention had been in 1972 when John Akii-Bua shattered the 400m hurdles world record at the 1972 Munich games.

Kiprotich's gold turned around what until that point been an otherwise mediocre Ugandan outing at the games of the 30th Olympiad.

Most of Uganda's representatives had all fallen by the wayside in the earlier rounds. So, there couldn't have been a better moment for the country to shine than the last day when the whole world had its attention on the men's marathon.

"It was simply unbelievable," observed UAF president Domenic Otuchet shortly after Kiprotich sped past Kenya's Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang to take gold.

Presidential salute

President Yoweri Museveni was amongst those moved by the historic run. He not only offered the Kiprotich sh200m, but also promised to build the gold medalist's parents a three bedroomed house.

Museveni also directed that a high altitude center, whose construction had for long failed to start, to be completed within a year.

Looking back, Otuchet says the gold medal couldn't have come at a better time. Also fast tracked, was a presidential pledge of a sh350m annual offer and a bus to the athletics body. A four wheel car that Museveni promised double Commonwealth Games gold medalist Moses Kipsiro will also soon be handed over.

But while Kiprotich's medal came as a surprise to many, those who had closely followed him knew his potential. Running as a pace setter, he had the previous year got everyone off guard when he won the Enschede marathon in Holland in a new Ugandan record.

Kiprotich then finished ninth at the World Championships in South Korea before winning the MTN half marathon in 2011. He underlined his intentions of winning an Olympic medal by finishing fourth at the Tokyo marathon in February.

A month after the Olympics, teenagers Michael Cherop, Moses Kurong and Monday Abdalla proved that Kiprotich's run was no flash in the pan. Cherop not only won gold at the World Mountain Race Championship but also led his colleagues to the team gold. Uganda also had a team silver at the Obudu Ranch Mountain race in Nigeria.

Earlier in the year Sarah Nambawa had successfully defended her Africa tripple jump title in Benin. All was however not rosy for Uganda at the Africa Cross-country Championships in Cape Town where the country settled for bronze.

Kiprotich's triumph over the revered Kenyans was sweet revenge for Uganda. The athletics giants had earlier in the year showed scant respect for their neighbours at the Eastern Africa Championships at Namboole. Uganda could only manage second position as Kenya topped the medal table.

The region's Secondary Schools Championships in Bujumbura provided Uganda yet another opportunity to strike back at Kenya . Uganda collected 18 gold medals to beat their arch-rivals to the top prize.

UAF's achievements included several clinics, the most memorable one being a course for physiotherapists. It was jointly facilitated by Ministry of Education and Sports, the German government and UAF.

Otuchet was one of those excited by the course. "We no longer have to beg other countries for assistance during international competitions. The course helped us identify these professionals," noted Otuchet citing the Olympics where Team Uganda for the first time in a long while had its own physio.

Problems at UAF

But there was also the other side of UAF. The federation was accused of being high handed. One of the victims was Tororo delegate James Mugeni.

Mugeni was dismissed from the executive for being critical of the federation. Mugeni, who also headed UAF's medical commission, regularly contributes to the media with insightful articles that have at times rubbed the federation the wrong way.

While Mugeni says that this is positive criticism, UAF insists that the Fame Athletics Club owner is voicing his concerns in the wrong forum and is also misrepresenting his region. Mugeni argues that even if UAF feels aggrieved, it should have given him a fair hearing.

"The decision was taken clandestinely. I was never given a fair hearing. In such dismissals there is supposed to be an input of the general assembly," says Mugeni.

Such clashes aside, there was more to rejoice about in athletics in 2012.

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