Since the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, John Akii-Bua Has Held the Uganda Record in the 110 Meters-Hurdles

The literature mainly attributes the 110 meters-hurdles’ Uganda national record to Jean-Baptiste Okello, courtesy of his personal best of 14.48 seconds that he established at the Olympics of 1960 in Rome. However, there is proof that John Akii-Bua established the national record in 1970 at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. This record seems to have stood it’s ground for nearly fifty years!

The 20 year-old Okello and the 21 year-old Aggrey Awori represented Uganda in the high-hurdles event in Rome at the Olympics of 1960. The first round of competition, then the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals, and later the final, were all held on the same day September 3rd 1960. The preliminary round consisted of six heats, Okello was entered in the first heat, Awori was entered in the sixth heat. There were five to seven hurdlers in each heat, and the fastest four of each heat would qualify for the second round (quarter-finals). In his heat, Okello was second (14.59), he therefore moved on to the next round. Awori did not fare as well, he finished in fourth place (15.36), but still qualified for the quarter-finals.

The quarter-finals were divided into four heats, each heat with six hurdlers. The fastest three in each heat would qualify for the semi-finals. In the first heat, in which Okello was placed, he finished second (14.48), and hence qualified for the semi-finals. This was a new and impressive Uganda record. Awori was eliminated after finishing fourth in the third heat (14.94).

The semi-finals consisted of two heats, each with six athletes. Okello featured in the first heat. The fastest three in each heat would move on to the final. Okello did not progress to the finals, after finishing fifth here (14.59).

Near the end of the Games, Awori and Okello would be part of Uganda’s 4x100m relay team. They were disqualified in the first round. The other sprinters were Samuel Amukun and Gadi Ado. The four youngsters were the only Uganda competitors at the Olympics in Rome. Among the four, only Samuel Erasmus Amukun and Aggrey Awori would move on to representing Uganda at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Awori would establish school records in the sprints, the long jump, and the high hurdles at Harvard University, and he later become a prominent Uganda civil servant and politician. Amukun became a prominent geologist in Canada.

Some have contended that Aggrey Awori holds Uganda’s 110 meters-hurdles record. He did finish the high hurdles in a meet and Harvard record of 14.2 seconds in early May 1965 at the Greater Boston Collegiate Track and Field Championships at the Harvard Stadium (Editors 1965: 8). The issue is that it was in the 120 yards-hurdles. That is very approximate, but not exactly 110 meters. Also, the conditions were not recognized or ratified by an international athletics body. There was also the factor of favorable winds.

Hidden in the annals is the 110 meters-hurdles national record that golden Olympian John Akii-Bua, who also holds the national records in the decathlon and the 400 meters, set at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh. The Games took place from July 16th to 25th. It is commonly known that Akii-Bua finished fourth here, in the final of the 400 meters-hurdles, the beginning of his meteoric rise to stardom.

In Edinburgh, there would be three rounds of 110 meters-hurdles’ competition, including the final. Each round consisted of seven hurdlers, and the fastest five in each heat would advance to the semi-finals. Akii-Bua was placed in the first heat of three heats, he advanced to the semi finals by virtue of his fourth-place finish. He finished in 14.39 seconds, clearly a new Uganda record. There does not seem to be evidence that any Ugandan has ran faster than that in the event. The winner in this heat was notably British legend David Hemery who had won gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico city where he simultaneously set a new world record.

At the Commonwealth Games of 1970 in Edinburgh, there were two semi-final heats in the 110 meters-hurdles; and Akii-Bua was placed in the second one, each consisting of eight hurdlers. The first four fastest in each semi-final heat, would advance to the finals. Akii-Bua failed to make it to the finals by finishing fifth in 14.43 seconds. But even this timing was faster than the Uganda record that Jean-Baptiste Okello erroneously holds (14.48)!

David Hemery would win in the finals (13.99) and claim gold.

Works Cited
Editors, “Harvard Wins Again, Fiore Sets Record.” The Heights, Volume 45, No. 25 (1965): 8.


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