The world may not expect Uganda to win a gold medals - or any medals for that matter in Beijing - but, considering the country's history of conflict in the 1970's and 1980's, Uganda has performed well over the years, and is churning out some exceptional young talent.
Over the last 6 days I've studied a bit about Uganda's Olympic and Sporting History. I learned that the best of times (and the worst of times) was during the regime of General Idi Amin.
Amin was well known as a sports enthusiast and athlete. He was a boxer, basketball and rugby player (oh, and by the way, he stood a imposing 6'4" and weighed 280 lbs). Today, he is considered both an evil tyrant that you never wanted to enter the ring against, and a sports hero who advocated and financially backed Ugandan athletes. Amin, some say, viewed this as an easy way to promote his country to the world.
The evidence of his backing is the following:
During his regime, the national boxing team, the Bombers, was ranked 3rd in the world amateur boxing. In 1978, the Uganda national soccer team, the Cranes, qualified for the Ghana African Cup of Nations finals where it finished second place after losing to Ghana 2-0, but they have since not achieved this level of success on the soccer pitch at any Africa or international tournament.
So, where are Ugandan sports today? Thanks to informative reporting by the Daily Monitor and New Vision, Team Uganda Athlete Profiles, Uganda's Olympic History, and and color commentary, it's been enlightening to learn a bit more about the state of Ugandan sports.
Uganda's Medal History
Uganda first took part in the Olympic Games in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia and have won a total of six medals, with the late John Akii Bua (photo left) winning the country’s only gold medal in the 1972 Munich Games in 400 meter hurdles.
Bua became a national hero and upon returning to Uganda, he received a city bungalow, a street and a stadium in Lira, northern Uganda, were also named after him.
Other notables from Uganda includes
• Mexico 1968: Eridadi Mukwanga, Silver, Boxing (bantam weight)
• Munich 1972: Leo Rwabdogo, Silver, Boxing (flyweight)
• Moscow 1980: John Mugabi, Silver, Boxing (welterweight)
• Atlanta 1996: Davis Kamoga, Bronze 400 meter
Additionally, according to the Daily Monitor, only 12 countries (of 54) have won Olympic Gold: South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Algeria, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Cameroon, Mozambique and Burundi.
In Beijing, the Uganda Olympic Team features 12 athletes in running, track and field, swimming, weightlifting, and badminton. They are:
Moses Kipsiro - Track and Field
Alex Malinga - Marathon
Boniface Kiprop - Track and Field
Geoffrey Kusuro - Track and Field
Benjamin Kiplagat - Track and Field
Abraham Chepkirwok - Track and Field
Justine Bayiga - Track and Field
Ronald Serugo - Boxing
Gilbert Kaburu - Swimming
Sam Mubarak Kivumbi - Weightlifting
Edwin Ekiring - Badminton
Aya Nakitanda - Swimming
From The Village to the Olympic Village
These young people, representing Uganda in Beijing, come from many of the same remote villages and communities that Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA) youth come from or that GYPA works. In fact, the stories of the Olympic athletes over-coming adversity are similar. Starting with very little, without much formal training and without a real grasp of how sports can change your life.
For example, Alex Malinga (33 years old)was born in Kapchorwa - which borders Kenya to the East. According to him, "I hated running. At school (primary) I would refuse every time they told us to run." It was not until high-school, in 1996, that he started serious running. Since that time, he's participated in nearly a dozen regional and international track and field events, and placed 6th at the IAAF World Athletics Championships (2005) in Helsinki.
Aya Olivia Nakitanda, the only female representative on Team Uganda thanks her mother for her success as a swimmer. Aya is asthmatic, but with training and support from coaches and her mother, she has beat the odds. At the 2004 East Africa University Games hosted in Nairobi, Aya picked up 11 gold medals, two silver and one bronze. Yet, no matte how busy, Aya has kept up with her studies and is now in her fourth year at Makerere University in the department of medicine.
According to the Daily Monitor, her dream.... "I would love to see more and more girls turn into top class swimmers and compete internationally like me."
It begs to ask the question, who else is out there is dreaming BIG? Who in Uganda will represent Uganda in 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024.... Who are the other youth of today in the streets of Kampala? In the rural areas of the North or the East or the West? Who else will one day qualify for the Olympics in other sports dominated by the United States, China and Europe. Basketball? Soccer? Tennis?
There are many out there, but without financial investment in sports, without the commitment to training and practice and coaching, these dreams will not be realized. The timing is now when the world's eyes are on sports and soon will be on South Africa for the World Cup (2010). Fortunately, the private sector and public sector do have the ability and should endorse the sports for social change movement in Uganda. The organizations, the youth and the country is ready. Let's not miss the opportunity... let the games REALLY begin!