18 August, 2012

Can Stephen Kiprotich's win uplift Uganda's Sports?

Stephen Kiprotich
When John Akii-Bua won the gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in the 400m hurdles in Munich , at the same time setting a world record, Uganda celebrated and rejoiced. As a little boy, I remember seeing him driving around in his Peugeot 604 - then, the only 604 in Uganda. Akii-Bua was pampered and cheered wherever he went. Idi Amin, the then President of Uganda, multinational and international companies, and people showered him with gifts. In 1978, Amin was deposed and Akii-Bua's life slowly started disintegrating. In 1997, he died, at only 47.

Since Akii-Bua's winning that gold medal in A972, it remained the only Olympic medal for Uganda in track and field; until a few days ago at the London Olympics - when the almost unimaginable happened: a relatively an unknown Ugandan, twenty-three-year-old Stephen Kiprotich from Kapchorwa, Sebei, beat the formidable Kenyans who were very much expected to win with a sweep, in the Olympic marathon race; Uganda has never won a Marathon medal before. Since Akii-Bua's feat, Kiprotich became the second person to have won an Olympic gold medal for Uganda; while the country's only other Olympic medal, a bronze, was from the 400m runner Davis Kamoga in 1996.

Incredible: only three medals for Uganda in all the modern Olympic games ever held. For years, Ugandans had got used to performing dismally at all kinds of international sporting events. What an achievement for Kiprotich to have won! And an inspiration. An inspiration, particularly for the millions of young Ugandans who do not have much hope for the future. And, yet, it shouldn't have been so bad for Uganda.

At independence in 1962, Uganda had one of the best medical and educational institutions and facilities in the Africa; and, indeed, in the developing world. Medical and educational institutions were well financed, well organized and well managed. Schools, right from the primary level through to the higher level all the way to Makerere University, were not only neat and well managed; but were also very well provided for with sporting facilities. Very unfortunately for Ugandans, with time, instability and wars have broken down all that. Even Makerere is now a very pale ghost of what it was before. As for sports, Ugandans have not done well even regionally.

Can Stephen Kiprotich's win a few days ago change that? Kiprotich, in those few hours of running, and then celebrating - did for Uganda what no other advertisement or ambassador could have done for the country. In those few hours, he made Ugandans very proud. Will those in authority in Uganda, now wake up and do much more for sports? Young people do not need only education to give them opportunities and HOPE. They need sports too.The Uganda Little League Baseball is one such very encouraging project. The country needs more of such. So that Uganda can have more Kiprotichs and Akii-Buas. Of Akii-Bua, his greatest inspiration, Kiprotich says: "His memory is there. I always keep it in mind. I have been dreaming that maybe I can look like him in time. I say to myself, 'Just relax. There's time. There's time for everything. A time to win. A time to relax.'

More on Kiprotich:

- Kiprotoch's Profile
- New Vision
- The Monitor
- IAAF

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