The Observer (Kampala)

24 January 2013

Uganda: Taking Stock of the USPA Awards

From that eventful day in August last year when Stephen Kiprotich won Uganda's only gold medal in 40 years at the London Olympics, his fortunes have kept piling.

In fact, conservative estimates indicate that in the aftermath of his medal success, Kiprotich's prizes and cash rewards have totalled Shs 1bn. For a man who was a prison guard in the Uganda Prisons services in Luzira, this was unprecedented.

Even at his workplace, he was promoted nine places to Assistant Superintendent of Prisons from Warder. He now owns a double-cabin pick-up and his endorsements from a myriad of companies have made him a billboard icon. In one, he is seen advertising Aqua mineral water whose tag line (Kip siping) was coined from his name.

Last Friday, Kiprotich was again handed the award of athlete of the year 2012 by the Uganda Athletics Federation and a day later, he bagged a brace at the Uganda Sports Press Association (Uspa) annual gala awards night. He was the male athlete of the year and overall sportsman of the year 2012.

So the question is: what is it like to win? Kiprotich told The Observer on Saturday that one thing he has discovered all this time he has been winning prizes is that it can be overwhelming. "It is difficult to get used to winning. Each time you win, the feeling is different from the previous time and so you want to win again," he explained.

Other sports personalities of course haven't had Kiprotich's rewards and tributes but they too, in the Uspa award, have revelled in that feeling of winning. Brian Odong, winner of the Uspa award for best male rugby player, told The Observer that when you stand on that podium to pick up your award, you feel like you have conquered.

"It's like you have the world at your feet; you feel special and until you are in the spotlight like I was on Saturday night, you can't imagine the feeling."

In essence, being a winner is something every sports personality strives for because it is life-changing. For Odong, now the added advantage is that he has to work even harder to defend the accolade.

Flavia Okecho, the basketball MVP women in 2006 and 2008 for Lady-Bucks and UCU Lady Canons respectively, says winning is a habit. With a glittering career, where she is arguably the best female basketball player in the last 10 years, she was voted Uspa female basketball player of 2012 and Fuba 2012 play-off MVP.

To some basketball commentators, Okecho is the consummate winner, always defying the odds to win it all. After taking a break from the game in 2010 to have her child, few expected her to get back into the game, let alone have the form to inspire any success. But she did.

"Unless you have won before, you will never value what it is like being on top with everyone applauding you. These accolades will inspire my children to become great athletes for this country like I have been. They will want to walk in my footsteps," she says.

That said, the Uspa awards have come a long way. Because of Nile Breweries, the sponsors, and Uganda Telecom, their predecessors, the awards gala night is such a colourful class act. The guests list is a who-is-who in the sports arena, something akin to events like the Fifa Ballon d'Or.

With great entertainment, food and lots of drink on the house, the Uspa event has moved places. Hassan Badru Zziwa, a veteran sports journalist recollects: "Back in the early 1990s, award winners used to take home plastic cups, plates or basins as prizes. But now, winners take plaques that are well engraved which they can keep for years."

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