17 July 2017

Uganda: Tracking Emong's Rise to the Top of the World

Photo: Abdul-Nasser Ssemugabi/The Monitor
Uganda’s David Emong during the national trials at Namboole.

Kampala — David Emong run the race of his life, his fastest ever, to win his first ever gold, in the T46 1500m event at the World Para Athletics Championship in London on Saturday night.

Emong perfectly calculated his tactics, keeping just behind 2016 Olympic champion Samir Nouioua of Algeria and Bulgarian Hrystian Stoyanov for over 1400 metres.

Just after the final bend, the Ugandan paced at shooting speed to lead the two for the last 100 metres, winning in 3:58:36 minutes, his personal best.

Immediately after winning that silver medal at Rio 2016, Emong returned to Kapchorwa, "to train as hard as possible and see how that man (Nouioua) escapes again... even if I die after crossing the line, as long as I have the gold, I'll have died a hero."

In London, Emong walked his talk by beating Nouioua, his arch-rival, and a multiple world champion, who finished second on 3:58:78 minutes, while Bulgarian Stoyanov finished third with a personal best time of 3:58:94 minutes in a race two Kenyans did not finish.

In addition to being the first Ugandan to win a Paralympic medal, Emong, the Rio 2016 Paralympic silver medallist, also became the first Ugandan to win a medal at the World Para Athletics Championship.

Simply put, he is the John Akii-Bua of Paralympic sport. In 1972, Akii-Bua won 400m hurdles gold at the Munich Olympics. It was Uganda's first ever Olympics medal.

Emong's fellow Para athletes have not been as lucky to feature in as many events as he has, (he is alone in London as he was Rio de Janeiro) but the man from Amolatar, a breakaway district from Akii-Bua's Lira, has made most of his opportunities count.

Since 2010, Emong's performance has been to a larger extent consistent, finishing on the podium, or just outside the medal bracket.

On his national debut Emong won bronze at the 2010 Great Lakes Championship in Nairobi, Kenya and qualified for the 2011 All-Africa Para Games in Maputo, Mozambique. Since then, he has set milestones which will be too hard to surpass or equal.

Maputo gold

In Maputo 2011, Emong won another bronze in the T46 5000m race, Uganda's first at the All-Africa Para Games before Christine Akullo won gold in the Women's T13 100m.

"The competition wasn't that stiff," Emong retells the Maputo race in a previous interview.

"But I was the only Ugandan against three ever-suffocating Kenyans and two Ethiopians." He sped up after the bell, beat the two Ethiopians and sneaked into the medal bracket just behind the two Kenyans.

Thanks to that third place finish, Emong also qualified for the London 2012 Paralympics. Three days to the London Games, he won the warm-up race in Bedford and hoped for the best. But in the Games, despite running the 1500m in 3.58.47 minutes, a personal best then, he finished fourth behind Algerian Nouioua and Ethiopian Wondiye Fikre Indelbu as Kenyan Abraham Tarbei set a world record of 3.50.15.

He admits having made some tactical mistakes in London then. At the Lyon 2013 World Para Athletics Championship, Emong again finished fourth on 4:07:90 minutes as Nouioua won gold. He won his first silver medal, again finishing behind Algeria's Nouioua at the 2015 All-Africa Para Games, in which Christine Akullo won her second gold.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Emong won another silver medal, again behind 2016 Nouioua, but his gold was long overdue.

The return to London, five years later brought a faster, more ambitious Emong, who finally beat his nemesis Nouioua and conquered the world; one who even had the guts of hoisting the Ugandan flag for another 400m inside the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

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