Magazine article New African

Golden Boy Adds Joy to Golden Jubilee: Nothing Could Be Sweeter in Uganda's Golden Jubilee Year Than an Olympic Gold Medal That No One Expected, the Country's Second in 50 Years of Independence

Magazine article New African

Golden Boy Adds Joy to Golden Jubilee: Nothing Could Be Sweeter in Uganda's Golden Jubilee Year Than an Olympic Gold Medal That No One Expected, the Country's Second in 50 Years of Independence

Article excerpt

THE LAST TIME A UGANDAN WON AN Olympic gold medal was in 1972, when John Akii-Bua, who has since passed on, brought home the doom hurdles gold medal from the Munich Olympics. AkiiBua's legendary exploits thereafter made him a darling not only in Uganda but across Africa and the world at large. Uganda had to wait for 40 long years after AkiiBua's gold to see another Olympic gold medal-this time from totally unexpected quarters. You can therefore imagine the joy that swept over the East African nation of 35 million people when an unknown, 23-year-old, lanky Ugandan athlete with a Kenyan-sounding name, Stephen Kiprotich, defied the form book and won the Olympic marathon gold on the last day of the London 2012 Olympics.

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Coming two months before the country's 5oth anniversary of independence celebrations, Kiprotich's gold has brought a special feeling that has lifted the mood of the country. The young man and his Team Uganda colleagues flew straight from London to have breakfast with President Museveni at State House in Entebbe, which is fortuitously perched on a hilltop overlooking Uganda's international airport from two miles away.

"I know some of you do not believe in God," the president said, "but for those of us who believe in God, this victory came from God. I know we didn't prepare enough." Here, the president was speaking the minds of many Ugandans who had been frustrated by the shambolic preparations that Team Uganda had been subjected to by officials, before the team emplaned for London.

One pundit was to remark pointedly that "the i6-strong Uganda Olympic team was outnumbered by the officials accompanying it, many of whom are paid five times what the athletes receive. Much of the money that was supposed to be spent on training was 'eaten'. If you don't care if your national sports team wins, then you probably won't care if your country becomes a winner".

But when Kiprotich won, everybody suddenly appeared to care. But the vociferous Kampala-based newspapers, who ran special supplements to welcome home the national hero, would not allow the officials to forget that Uganda's Olympic preparations had been tainted by infighting and government failure to fund the training of the athletes.

The lack of enough official support had forced senior athletes like Moses Kipsiro (who won double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in India two years ago) to pay for their own training in Kenya.

Kiprotich himself, who comes from the Sebei ethnic community near the Kenya border, was said to have spent the last six years shuttling between his hometown of Kapchorwa and Iten in Kenya's Rift Valley to train with Kenya's former world 5,000m champion, Eliud Kipchoge.

Thus, Uganda's Olympic officials had a lot of egg on their faces as they accompanied the instant hero, Kiprotich, to State House in Entebbe. And President Museveni rubbed it in: "I salute Kiprotich and those who trained him," the president said, adding jokingly: "He is a real member of the NRM [the ruling National Resistance Movement]. You remember when some of us went into the bush, we could judge that these people could not liberate themselves. That is what Kiprotich did. He saw we were disorganised, so he went to the bush [Kenya]. That is what got Kiprotich this victory, assisted by God."

Awaiting the marathon winner at State House was a large crowd, including his wife, Patricia, and their two children; and also his father, James Kiptui, 85, and his mother, Eserena Cheptuj, 65, both of whom were coming to Kampala for the first time in their lives. "Even Dad and Mum are here. Great," Kiprotich said and burst out in tears of joy.

From State House, Entebbe, the instant hero was mobbed all the way, a good 4o km, into the centre of the capital Kampala, riding in an open-top Porsche sports car with a special number plate-"Gold C. …

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