29 December 2018

Uganda: Swimming - Uganda Breaks New Grounds

Kampala — Ugandan swimmers have showed this year that they are capable of growing their profiles in the sport - all they need is better preparation and opportunities to showcase their talents.

US-based swimmer Rebecca Ssengonzi showed she enjoys her trips to north Africa as the good fortune from Egypt three years ago followed her to Algeria at yet another continental event in July.

In 2015, the 17 year old won Uganda's only continental medals at the Africa Junior Swimming Championships in Cairo when she won silver in the 100m butterfly and bronze in the 400m individual medley.

Rebecca went on to win Uganda's first medal, 50m fly bronze, at the Africa Youth Games in Algeria in July.

The fit also ensured that Rebecca and her brother Jesse became the first Ugandan swimmers to qualify for an international event (Youth Olympics that happened in September in Buenos Aires in Argentina) on their own merit.

Rebecca clocked 28.80 in the preliminaries of women's 50m fly in Algeria to beat the 29.07 B-time qualification mark for the Youth Olympic Games.

Jesse,15, followed the lead clocking 25.57 in the prelims of the men's 50 fly. He too qualified for the finals where he was slightly slower at 25.64 but both of his times in Algiers beat the 25.95 B qualification times for Buenos Aires.

Although the two did not make the Argentina meet owing to school duties and perhaps the untimely death of their father Robert Ssengonzi, this achievement is a game changer for Ugandan swimming, where success has usually been likened to winning medals at the Cana Zone IV and Cana Zone III Championships.

The yardstick for progress has grown even more as Dolphins and Seals swimmers also ventured into swimming events in South Africa.

But back to the Ssengonzis, Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) will hope qualification rather than the usual dependency on wild cards becomes a trend. More of the young swimmers are tipped to hit qualification ranks when their time comes.

There were near misses for Kenya-based Ambala Atuhaire in the 50 free, where he made 24.89 - just a few milliseconds off the 24.38 B time, and 200m free, where his 2:08.49 was slower than the required 2:07.62. All this points to how close Uganda is getting to qualify it's own athletes.

Speaking of setting the pathway for others, Fadhil Saleh, a sprinter, did exactly this when he took on the 200m free (2:03.49) - a mid-distance event at the 14th World Short Course Swimming Championships in Hangzhou China early this month. At the world stage, Uganda has always limited it's participation to sprints (50m and 100m races) but Fadhil follows in the shoes of Atuhaire, who posted four new mid-distance PBs in five events during his international bow at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Bahamas last year.

Selina Katumba capped Uganda's respectable performance in Hangzhou with personal bests (PBs) in the 50m (28.42) and 100m (1:03.36) free events.

Earlier in the year, she managed 28.72 at the USF National Club Championships in June then went 28.62 last month at the inaugural Silverfin Championship.

She upheld the time at the GEMS Cambridge USF Sprints Gala a week later shortly before she attacked the world stage with new fires in the belly. Her Hangzhou times are an endorsement for the quality of organisation and competition at local meets.

While Uganda could have done better in China, where only Katumba recorded PBs among the four swimmers that represented the country, when the performance is put into context it speaks to positives.

Avice Meya tried out the 100m individual medley that no female had ever done since Uganda started participating in 1997. Her 1:12.97 was also an immense improvement on the 1:20.65 that Anthea Mudanye managed in the 100m fly in Canada two years ago. Fadhil's 54.36 in the 100m free in China is the best performance by any Ugandan at national team level. So is his twin brother Nabil's 25.00 in 50m free.

Like earlier pointed, the standard at home is equally rising with more club-organised events and USF's new sprints gala where 19 age group records were broken.

Tendo Mukalazi will look at his 24.88 in the 50m free at the Silverfin Championship as one of the highlights of the local swimming season.

His sister Kirabo Namutebi made 27.15 in the 50m free - her time is over 10 microseconds below the USF AAA motivational time (27.29) for the 13-14 years girls' age group.

Not even the girls in the senior age group got close. By the way, for more than three local and regional championships this year, Namutebi has posted the best times among all girls - younger and older - in the 50m freest and breast events.

She had the best times across the grid in all six events she did. In five of those, including the 50 fly (29.90) where she went under 30 for the first time. The local scene was spiced up by the inaugural USF National Water Polo Championships while Uganda also hosted the first Cana Zone III Masters in August.

Altona Swim Club were consequently rewarded for their efforts to grow these lesser aquatics codes.

Just three weeks after triumphing in water polo on July 28, Altona were at it again as their 13-man team topped the regional Masters Championships held at Gems International School, Butabika with 1,422 points.

If Uganda ever becomes a regular water polo playing nation, they can look back at Saturday, July 28 as the day the ice was broken, at Greenhill Academy - Kibuli.

Having to make do with a reconfigured swimming pool, the first water polo competition in Uganda attracted 88 players from eight teams; three clubs and five institutions.

The barriers broken in 2018 should make for an exciting 2019.

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