15 December 2013

Uganda: 2013 Review - Kiprotich the Saviour Again

For the second year running, Stephen Kiprotich, sums up Uganda's athletics season, Moses Mugalu writes.

The Olympic and World Marathon champion's all-conquering performance at the World Championships in Moscow in August yielded Uganda's second gold medal at major events within a space of twelve months.

Kiprotich's triumph sparked off jubilant scenes in the country (on August 17) as millions of Ugandans glued on their television watched the lanky marathoner break away from his Ethiopian rivals to hit the finish tape inside Moscow's Luzhniki stadium.

His winning time of two hours, nine minutes and 51 seconds beat off stiff competition from the Ethiopian duo of Lelisa Desisa (2:10.12) and Tadese Tola (2:10.23) who claimed silver and bronze medals respectively.

Kiprotich flashed his trademark radiant smile as iconic images of his final strides into the stadium with one arm raised in victory salute beamed on screens to a thunderous applause. Compatriot Jackson Kiprop is hailed for having set the pace for Kiprotich in the race as he led the event through the half mark tiring off strong Kenyan and Ethiopian rivals.

It was another historic triumph from Kiprotich, who had ended the country's 40-year-old Olympic gold medal spell by winning the marathon race at the 2012 Games in London.

The 24-year-old Prisons commissioner (fast-tracked from warden, thanks to his exploits on the athletics track) also sparked off new debate on whether he's best ever Ugandan sportsman. In the aftermath of his second gold in Moscow, as many pundits rated him ahead of legendary John Akii-Bua, the former 400m hurdle record holder champion at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

That said, Kiprotich had unmatched success (he has won two of the four gold medals for Uganda from the biggest athletics events) that earned the country pride, respect and hefty rewards for him. Dorcus Inzikuru won the 3000m steeplechase at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

President Museveni, who hosted a state luncheon at his country Rwakitura home in honour of Kiprotich, showered the champion with prizes that included cash, a car and house. Prompted by Kiprotich's outstanding performance, Museveni revised upwards the monthly stipend paid to outstanding Ugandan sportsmen.

And accordingly, gold medalists in competitions at African level and beyond are paid Shs 5m per month. Silver fetch Shs 3m while bronze medalists get Shs 1m. This stipend introduced by Museveni in 2010, initially had gold medalists getting Shs 1m.

A high altitude training centre being constructed by government in his home district of Kapchorwa was also named after Kiprotich. In his progression to the success in Moscow, Kiprotich started the 2013 athletics season by winning Granollers Half Marathon in Spain in February. He ran the race in one hour one minute and 15 seconds, setting his personal best time in the 21-kilometre distance.

His next event was the Virgin London Marathon in April. It wasn't a triumphant return to the streets of the British capital as he finished the race in sixth position.

Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede won the marathon, followed by Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai and Ayele Abshero (another Ethiopian) respectively. Barring the lukewarm show in the London Marathon, Kiprotich focused on his preparations for the World Championships in Russia.

Meanwhile, 800-metres runner Ronald Musagala and Juliet Chekwel (10,000m) are the other athletes whose performances merit mention in the 2013 season.

From the national championships at Namboole stadium, Musagala became the surprise qualifier for the games in Moscow where he continued to run his luck through the heats to the quarterfinal semifinal stage. Chekwel broke the national 10000m record while in Moscow.

Former Commonwealth champion (5,000m and 10,000m), Moses Kipsiro, did not live up to the expectations as injuries suffered in 2012 seemed to take toll on him this year.

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