Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

“Africa the Dark Continent According to Foreigners,” by Jonathan Musere

May 24, 2016

“Africa the Dark Continent According to Foreigners,” by Jonathan Musere
Though the phrase, concept, or application “Dark Continent” has existed for at least four centuries, increasingly over time it came to be more significantly bestowed on Africa, more prevalently on “black” or sub-Saharan Africa. Over the recent past centuries, the region was increasingly inundated by foreign prospectors, adventurers, explorers, missionaries, biologists, geographers, and others.

Africa and Africans were as mysterious and strange to much of the rest of the world, just as the foreigners and their ways were mysterious to the Africans. The foreign presence in Africa accelerated during the Slave Trade and the Scramble for Africa.
Europeans, starting from the coast of west Africa, gradually ventured deeper and deeper into the interior of the continent. Many of them wrote down what they perceived and what their opinions were regarding the culture, religion, appearance, habitations, community, modes of living and survival, and other characteristics of the Africans and their environment. Africans were compared and contrasted to Europeans, to other Africans, and to other people. Some of these accounts were debasing, exaggerations, fabrications, illogical, and without merit. Some of the accounts were corroborative and displayed commonalities among black Africans. Veneration of and sacrifices to ancestors, superstitiousness, as well as operation of witchcraft and blood rituals were common. Women prevalently carried out the domestic work, men were warriors and hunters, and polygamy was widespread.
The renowned foreign chroniclers of Africa included, among many others, David Livingstone, Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, Robert Moffat, Henry M. Stanley, Samuel W. Baker, and Paul B. Du Chaillu. The extracts in this book offer a mosaic of the Africa as the Dark Continent in their eyes and descriptions. The writings on Africa and Africans sometimes took a positive, unbiased or neutral tone; they were not always negative.



Book by Jonathan Musere–“Henry Morton Stanley: Emergence of the Pearl of Africa”

March 5, 2016

Welsh-born Henry Morton Stanley who was raised in an environment of deprivation and torture is depicted in “Henry Morton Stanley: Emergence of the Pearl of Africa,” by Jonathan Musere.

Against insurmountable odds, short and hard-headed Stanley gradually rose to eternally become internationally signified as an adventurous soldier, journalist, geographer, explorer, discoverer, prospector, colonialist and diplomat.

In this account Stanley is followed from his beginnings, to his migration to America where he would participate in the Civil war, to his travails along the way, and to his sailing to many parts of the world. Stanley loved to be impressive and perfectionist, he longed to be in the thick of where the action was. His ambitiousness drew him to famous figures and financiers. He would be assigned to find explorer-missionary Dr. David Livingstone in east-Central Africa, he accompanied the British Commanders during the Ashanti War and in the Battle of Magdala.

Ariko The African environment that Stanley recorded, just like the people, would vary from hostile to hospitable. Stanley came across slavers and slave traders, Hindis and Banyan, half-castes and coastal Negroes, chiefs and kings, herders and settled communities. He was always eager to take notes.

Stanley wrote and moved fast, he recorded what he observed in numerous detailed and voluminous journals and books. He managed his crew impressively; he intricately described individuals, groups, and places. Among the individuals and communities that he was quite impressed with were Lord Rumanika of Karagwe, Mtyela Mirambo of Unyamwezi, and Mutesa of Buganda.

Judith Ayaa: Outstanding Progress in the Breaking of the 400-Meters East Africa and Africa Record

March 10, 2015

Judith Ayaa was the dominant female sprinter at the East and Central African Athletic Championships from 1968 to 1972. During the same span of time, she was not only the 4-time 400m champion, but she also often competed in and won in the 100m and 200m. She won the gold in the 100 meters in 1968 in Dar-es-Salaam. In the middle of August 1969, in the same ECA championships this time in Kampala, she was victorious in the 100 and 200 meters and was part of Uganda gold-medal winning 4x100m relay team. Her victory in the 400m was a new Africa record–53.6. By virtue of this personal best time in 1969, Ayaa was in 1969 ranked amongst the world’s top 10 female 400-meters sprinters.

Because there were a relatively low number of women competing in the 400m at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, only a semi-final and a final would hereby take place. Ayaa was on July 22nd 1970 lined up in the second of the two heats of the semi-final . She won in quite an astonishing time–52.86–a new Africa record. The time ranked her as eleventh best in the world in 1970.

The final would take place on the next day. But having been the fastest among the semi-finalists, Ayaa had perhaps ran too fast. She perhaps ought to have ran in relaxed stride, just fast enough to be among the top four of either of the semi-final heats that would ensure their qualifying for the finals. In this first semi-final heat, Sandra Brown of Australia finished second in a full second behind Ayaa. The first semi-final heat in which Marilyn Fay Neufville of Jamaica won in 53.05, was apparently one of more tactfulness and relaxation.

In the final, diminutive 17 year-old Neufville won in a world record–51.02. Neufville won by an astonishing over two seconds ahead of silver medallist Sandra Brown of Australia who finished in 53.66. Neufville thereby shaved of by nearly a second the previous world record of 51.7 set in 1969 by Frenchwomen Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos. Judith Ayaa, overtaken after slowing down near the end of the race, likely due to fatigue after her unnecessary exertion in the semi-finals, was third (53.77) in a photo-finish behind Sandra Brown and captured the bronze medal. The fatigue had likely cost her at least the silver medal; but the Commonwealth bronze would be one of Ayaa’s most cherished international possessions!

In 1970 at the East-Central African Championships held in Nairobi, Ayaa won in the 100-meters in 11.8, the 200-meters in 24.1, and the 400-meters in 54.0.

Ayaa was a competitor at the USA-Pan African Track-and-Field Meet held from July 16-17, 1971 at Duke University in Durham. She won the gold medal after finishing in 54.69.

Still in 1971, at the ECA Championships in Lusaka, Ayaa won in the 400-meters (54.7); and she was part of the Uganda gold medal victorious teams in both sprint relays.

Ayaa competed in Dante Stadium at a Pre-Olympic Meet in mid-August 1972 in Munich, a build-up for the forthcoming Olympics in the same city of West Germany. Also called the “Hanns-Braun Memorial International Pre-Olympic Invitational,” this track-and-field meet spanned two days.

20 year-old Ayaa, participated amongst the 3 heats of the women’s 400 meters. The top overall finishers would be signified. Altogether Ayaa’s time was second best–52.68–a new Africa record. In early September 1972, in Munich at the Olympics, Ayaa was again timed in 52.68 seconds when she finished third in the quarter finals and advanced to the semi-finals. She thereby equaled her personal best and Africa record. Ayaa would be eliminated  from advancing to the Olympic finals when she finished 7th (52.91) in a semi-final heat.

At the pre-Olympic meet in Munich, on the second day of the meet, Ayaa additionally competed in the 200-meters and finished fifth. Results were (AP 1972: 66):

1. Marina Sidorova (Soviet Union), 23.78; 2. Karollne Kaefer (Austria), 23.99; 3. Vilma Charlton (Jamaica), 24.04; 4. Una Morris (Jamaica), 24.11; 5. Judith Ayaa (Uganda), 24.12.

Judith Ayaa would fade away from the international competition limelight after 1973. The President Idi Amin Dada handed her the Uganda flag in her capacity as team captain for the national team that was bound for Lagos for the All-Africa Games in January 1973. She was expected to win in the 400m. But possibly due to injuries, sickness, or inadequate training, she did not compete in any of the individual sprints in Lagos. But she possibly competed in the women’s 4x400m relay in which Uganda won gold.

Much more had been expected of this young elite African athlete, one of the few African women to reach such a pinnacle during that time of the dawn of women power athletes. It would take three decades for Ayaa’s Uganda national record in the 400m to be broken. After more than four decades, the present Uganda record (52.48) by Justine Bayigga, established in 2008, is only 0.2 seconds lower than the national and African record that Judith Ayaa set in 1972.

Works Cited

AP (August 17, 1972). “Second Day of the Sports Festival,” in “San Bernardino County Sun,”  page 66.

Jonathan Musere

Judith Ayaa: East and Central African Championships, the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, and the USA vs Pan Africa Meet

November 18, 2014

Judith Ayaa was born on July 15, 1952 in the sub-county Koch Goma in Nwoya District in Uganda. During an era when African women participation in athletics was in its prevalently nascent and amateur stages, young Ayaa became a resounding name amongst African women track stars. Ayaa became the first Ugandan woman to win a Commonwealth Games’ medal. The female Ugandan Commonwealth Games’ medallists who followed in her footsteps are three: Ruth Kyalisiima (Kyarisiima/ Kyalisima) in Brisbane in 1982 where she won the silver in the 400 meters-hurdles (57.10), gold-medallist Dorcus Inzikuru in the 3000 meters-steeplechase in Melbourne in 2006 whereby she established a Games’ record (9:19.51), and bronze-medallist Winnie Nanyondo who was third in the 800m (2:01.38) in Glasgow in 2012.

Judith Ayaa’s career on the track would be short-lived, though of significant fulfillment.

The record of Judith Ayaa in the East and Central African Athletic Championships is amazing. In 1968 (Dar-es-Salaam), Ayaa won gold in the 100 meters sprint, finishing in 11.5. The following year in mid-August 1969, Ayaa cemented and confirmed her formidability by in the same championships (Kampala) winning in the 100 meters (11.8), the 200 meters (25.0), and the 400m (53.6). Jane Chikambwe, considered an athletics legend in Zambia won silvers behind Ayaa in the 100m and 200m. Here in Kampala in 1969, Ayaa was part of the Uganda 4x100m relay team that won in 49.5. In the same year, based on her personal best time of 53.6, Judith Ayaa was ranked amongst the world’s top 10 female 400m runners.

In 1970 at the same ECA Championships (Nairobi), Judith Ayaa did not slip behind. The slim young woman with the “Mercedes-Benz” body again won in the 100m (11.8), the 200m (24.1), and the 400m (54.0s).

It was at the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in Scotland in 1970 that Judith Ayaa established herself as an international female athlete to be reckoned with. At these Games, Judith Ayaa notably competed in the 100m and the 400m. On July 17th, Ayaa was placed in the first of the five 100m preliminary heats. He performed reasonably well, finishing in second place, behind Jenny Lamy of Australia, in 11.92 seconds. But the semi-finals, the next day, were not as fruitful for Ayaa. She was placed in the second of the two semi-final heats, and was beaten into sixth place (11.93) and eliminated from advancing to the finals. The finals, later in the day, were won by Raelene Boyle of Australia, followed by legendary Alice Annum of Ghana, and then Marion Hoffman of Australia for the bronze medal.

There were much fewer competitors in the 400m so there would only be two rounds of competition. On July 22nd, Ayaa was placed in the second of two heats of the first round. Ayaa won in a relatively astounding time of 52.86 seconds, a new Uganda and Africa record. The finishing time by Ayaa ranked her as eleventh in the world in 1970. Alice Annum who had been scheduled to compete in the same round, did not start.

Ayaa advanced to the finals that would be contested the next day. But perhaps she had ran too fast instead of running while relaxed but enough to be amongst the top four of each round that would automatically qualify for the finals. Sandra Brown of Australia, was second, and a full second behind Ayaa. The other semi-final heat in which Marilyn Neufville won in 53.05, was of more relaxation and tactfulness.

The finals the next day witnessed diminutive but legendary 17 year-old Jamaican Marilyn Fay Neufville, winning in a world record of 51.02. Neufville won by an astounding more than two seconds ahead of silver medallist Sandra Brown (53.66) of Australia; she reduced the previous world record of 51.7 established (1969) by Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos both of France by nearly a second. Judith Ayaa, overtaken after slowing down near the end of the race, likely due to fatigue after her unnecessary exertion in the semi-finals, was third (53.77) in a photo-finish behind Sandra Brown and captured the bronze medal. The fatigue had likely cost her at least the silver medal; but the Commonwealth bronze would be one of Ayaa’s most acclaimed international possessions!

Marilyn Neufville’s superb career would be short-lived because of physical injuries and inconsequential surgery. At the 1974 Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch in New Zealand Neufville was 6th in the finals of the 400m. And at the Olympic Games of 1976 held in Montreal in Canada, she participated in the first round of the 400m and qualified for the next round, but she did not move forward into the next round because of injuries.

The next major event for Ayaa would be from July 16-17, 1971 at he Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke University in Durham in North Carolina. It was the USA versus Africa and the Rest of the World Meet (sometimes referred  to as the USA-Pan African Track-and-Field Meet). The event that attracted a high capacity crowd of a total of 52000 spectators was of a unified African team together with other nations (fourteen nations altogether) versus the USA team. Perhaps the main attraction was 1500m Olympic gold-medallist Kipchoge Keino who was revered and renowned for his track rivalry with American middle-distance legend and 1500m world-record (3:33.1)
holder Jim Ryun. Here at Duke, Keino intended to break this world record.

Other internationally acclaimed runners in the competition included Kenyan Amos Biwott (steeplechase Olympic champion), and long-distance Tunisian legend Mohammed Gammoudi. Ugandan hurdler John Akii-Bua of Uganda who was hardly known internationally, was also there to compete.

Judith Ayaa won the gold medal at these USA-Pan Africa Games in 54.69. Second was Gwendolyn Norman (USA) of Sports International in 55.42, third was Jarvis Scott (USA) of Los Angeles Mercurettes in 56. 0, and fourth was Titi Adeleke (Nigeria) in 59.52. John Akii-Bua won in the intermediate hurdles, establishing an Africa record (49.0) that would be the world’s best time for 1971. Smooth-sailing “flying policeman” Akii  became signified as a contender for the forthcoming Olympics in 1972 in Munich. Simultaneously, Ayaa  gained international acclaim though not to the level of Akii. Kip Keino failed to break the world record in the 1500m, but he clearly led and finished in quite an excellent 3:34.7.

Other notable competitors at the track and field meet included Americans Rodney Milburn and Ron Draper (high hurdles), Kenyans Robert Ouko (800m) and Benjamin Jipcho (steeplechase); Steve Prefontaine (USA) and Miruts Yifter (Ethiopia) in the 5000m, and John Smith (USA) in the 400m.

Still in 1971, at the East and Central African Championships held in Lusaka in Zambia, Ayaa was the winner in the 400m (54.7). She was also part of the Uganda gold medal winning teams in the relays: 4x100m (48.7) and 4x400m (3:50.5).

The next major challenge for Ayaa, the Olympic Games of 1972 held in Munich in Germany would prove to be interesting. In the first round, Ayaa in lane two came in fourth (52.85s) thereby qualifying for the quarter-finals. In the quarter finals, Judith Ayaa was drawn in lane 7 in her heat two of four heats. The first four finishers of each heat would move on to the semi-final. Ayaa comfortably finished third and established a Uganda and Africa record of 52.68. The Uganda record, Ayaa’s personal best, would stand for more than three decades. Of note, in these quarter-finals, Ayaa beat 26 year-old Colette Besson of France the diminutive surprise winner in the same event at the previous (1968) Olympics in Mexico City. Besson was in lane 3 and her 5th place finish disqualified her from advancing to the next round.

Ayaa moved on to the Olympics’ semi-finals. She was in lane 2, and finished in 52.91 seconds, a 7th place finish. Ayaa had put up quite a commendable performance, but the international competition was formidable, and Ayaa was eliminated in what would be her first and last Olympics competition. The eighth competitor, Christel Frese of West Germany, fell during the race and did not finish.

In 1972, Ayaa became a 4-time gold medallist in the 400m at the East and Central African Championships. This time, in Dar-es-Salaam, Ayaa’s winning time was 55.7. She was part of the Uganda team that won the gold medal in the 4x100m (48.7).

After 1972, Ayaa’s performance record would become lackluster. She got married and started having children in close succession, and neglected sports. The tumultuous regime of Amin made the situation worse. Athletes were far less financially compensated for their toil and injuries, than they have increasingly been in the recent decades. Ayaa’s demise was far from glamorous; it was disheartening. At some point later in her life, while looking after her two young children, Ayaa struggled, and sometimes begged on the streets of Kampala. She would crush stones for a living. Akii-Bua, also a national team-mate with Ayaa at the Olympics in 1972, would be instrumental to the drawing attention to and the intervening in the plight of Ayaa. She was located and a European benefactor helped with expenses. Unfortunately, in 2002 Ayaa would die young at 48 or 49, at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Ironically, Akii-Bua who was also then not faring well, had died at about the same age of death as Ayaa, earlier in 1997 at the same hospital.

Ayaa’s reign on the women’s track was short but is superb and enduring. Trophies and national and regional competitions in northern Uganda have become commemorated in the name Judith Ayaa.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Olympic Trials and Triumphs

June 10, 2012

August 31st, 1972;  22 year-old John Akii-Bua (50.35 seconds) wins in the fourth heat of the five Round One 400 meters-hurdles heats. Stavros Tziortzis (50.54s) who had earlier during the same year beaten a sickly Akii-Bua into second place, at a track meet in Europe, finishes second (50.54). Olympic medal hope William (Bill) Koskei of Kenya, who won Uganda the silver medal in the same event at the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Edinburgh in 1970, had disappointingly finished fourth (50.58) in the second heat of this Round One. Koskei is eliminated from moving on to the semi-finals. The top three finishers of each of the five heats, plus one hurdler with the next best time, move on to the Semi-Final Round of sixteen hurdlers.

September 1st, 1972; John Akii-Bua (49.25 seconds) wins in the first of the two Semi-Final heats. It is notable that in this heat, Akii-Bua is drawn in lane 2 to race against two other top medal hopes: David Peter Hemery of Great Britain who is the Olympic champion and world record holder; and Ralph Mann of the United States who has the world leading time in the intermediate hurdles and is ranked number one in the world at the event. Akii-Bua commendably beats Ralph Vernon Mann (49.53), and Dave Hemery (49.66). Here, Akii-Bua races with these arch-rivals for the first time ever. Akii-Bua’s confidence that he will win, is reinforced. The top four finishers of each of the Semi-Final heats are the finalists. He aims to smash the world record by about a second.

September 2nd, 1972; John Akii-Bua (47.82 seconds), despite being drawn into disadvantageously tight lane 1 wins in the final in a new Olympic and World record. He becomes the first man ever to officially run the race in under 48 seconds. In a photo-finishing fight, Ralph Mann (48.51) is second and Dave Hemery (48.52) wins the bronze. The semi-final had somewhat predicted what the outcome of the final would be!

After four decades Akii-Bua still holds the 47.82 Uganda record; and this is still one of the best times by an African hurdler. Akii-Bua remains Africa’s only Olympic gold medal winning hurdler; the only African with an Olympic gold in a track event that is less than 800m. It is also notable that Akii was singular in that he won in each of his 400mh hurdles heats in the Olympics in Munich, right up to the finals. And in each of them, he was placed in disadvantageously tight lane 1 or 2. A far-cry from this era, Akii-Bua was the lone black finalist in the 400mh line-up in Munich. He became a significant role model for the torrents of black 400mh hurdling champions and record holders that have followed.

July 1976 in Montreal; Uganda boycotts the Olympic Games, alongside nearly 30 mostly African countries. The boycott is over the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not banning New Zealand from the Olympics after the NZ national rugby team toured apartheid South Africa earlier in the year. Akii-Bua had trained hard, in the same year established a personal best and Uganda record in the 400m flat. He was looking forward to defending his Olympic title. Fast improving Edwin Moses of the United States had become the main international attraction among the intermediate hurdlers. Moses would win the gold and smash Akii-Bua’s world record. It is also notable that In the third week of June 1976, Akii-Bua’s thigh (left hamstring) muscle tore. This injury could have reduced his chances at competing or performing well at 1976 Olympics.

July 24th 1980 at the Grand Arena in the Central Lenin Stadium Area in Moscow, Akii-Bua now 30 years of age is placed in the first heat of three in Round One of the 400 meters-hurdles. The first four leaders in each heat, plus four with the next fastest time would move on to the semi final round of 16. Akii-Bua (50.87), long past his prime is fifth. After all three heats, the times are tallied, and Akii-Bua is able to move on to the semi-finals. Notably, over sixty countries including the United, most rallying around protesting the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, did not compete in Moscow. Competition was significantly reduced.

July 25th, 1980; Akii-Bua (51.10), running in the second of the two Semi-Final heats is beaten into seventh place and eliminated from moving on to the final. The eight hurdlers with the fastest times are the finalists.

July 31, 1980; Akii-Bua competes in Round One as part of Uganda 4x400m relay team. Uganda is placed in the second of the three heats. The top two finishing countries of each heat, plus the next two fastest countries would be the finalists. Uganda (3:07.0) was fifth and was eliminated from moving on to the finals. This would be the last time Akii-Bua would compete at the Olympics.

Jonathan Musere

Vitalis Bbege: Uganda, Africa, and Germany Boxing Champion; and the Mike Tyson Knockout Image

May 22, 2011

American boxer Michael Gerard “Iron Mike” Tyson was born in the New York City borough Brooklyn on June 30th 1966. The ferocity and intimidating style of Tyson involved a series of rapid knockout wins that lead to his becoming the youngest heavyweight champion of the world in 1986. Ten years after Mike Tyson was born, a young northern Ugandan boxer Vitalis (Vitalish) Bbege, who had quickly acquired the equivalent of a national Tyson-like ferocious boxing image, was scheduled to represent Uganda at the 1976 Olympics to be held in Montreal from July 18th to 31st. Among the boxers on the Uganda team were future national boxing legends John Baker Muwanga (bantamweight) and featherweight Cornelius Boza-Edwards (Bbosa). Vitalish Bbege was scheduled to be Uganda’s welterweight competitor. Many African and other countries politically boycotted the 1976 around the starting of these Olympics. The scheduled preliminary bouts involving boycotting nations’ boxers were ruled walkovers in favor of the opponents of the non-boycotting nations. In retrospect, Bbege had widely acquired his national brutal rapid knockout reputation during the 1974 African Amateur Boxing Championships that just so happened to be held in Bbege’s Uganda home territory. The boxing tournament took place in Kampala in November. Welterweight Bbege quickly disposed of all his opponents by early knockout, save for the audacious and strong Prince of Egypt who persistently held on until the end. Young and relatively unknown Bbege was quickly in the books as Africa’s amateur welterweight boxing champion. For decades, his name has remained legendary in Uganda and as synonymous with not only boxers, but also with belligerent and hard hitting regular people. Bbege, as a welterweight represented Uganda at the Pre-Olympic Boxing Tournament in Montreal from November 27th to December 1st 1975. In the quarter-finals, on November 27th, the referee stopped Nico Jeurissen from Bbege’s onslaught, in the very first round. Bbege, in the semi-finals on November 29th, true to fashion, knocked out Leo Pelletier of Canada in the second round. But the finals, on December 1st, were not fruitful for Bbege. Bbege was defeated by Yoshifumi Seki of Japan with the referee stopping the fight in the first round. Bbege went home with the silver medal. And so did heavyweight Jacob Odonga, another Ugandan who was technically knocked out in the finals (by Hocine Tafer of France). The only other Ugandan contestant at this tournament was Mustapha Wasajja. He won the gold medal after outpointing Bryan Gibson of Canada. After the 1976 Olympic boycott, Vitalish Bbege soon moved to the then West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany-FRG) where they would be more lucrative boxing opportunities for him. He remained an amateur boxer and never boxed professionally. He joined the Sparta Flensburg Boxing Club (BC Flensburg) in the city Flensburg where he still resides and is a fitness and boxing trainer. Representing Sparta Flensburg (BC Flensburg), Bbege won numerous annual Schleswig-Holstein Amateur Boxing Association (SHABV) titles from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s. In 1979, Bbege won the SHABV amateur middleweight (75kg) title, the same title as a light-middleweight (71 kg) in 1980 and 1981. In 1982, 1986, and 1990 Bbege became the SHABV middleweight champion. In 1984, 1985, and 1987, Bbege as a heavyweight (81kg), was the SHABV title holder. On January 30th 1984, Vitalish Bbege represented West Germany in a boxing dual verses the United States. He boxed as a light-middleweight and defeated Michael Cross by two points to one in a three-round match-up. Interestingly Bbege has a brother who goes by the names Vitalish Nyamor Bbege and was another capable boxer who moved to Germany. Under the name Vitalish Nyamor, he also represented Germany at the same tournament and as a welterweight defeated Alton Rice by three points to zero. It is remarkable that out of the ten bouts, the Bbege brothers won two of the total of four bouts won by West Germany. John Odhiambo of Uganda and legendary Kenyan boxer David Attan are some of the other Africans that boxed in the Germany Bundesliga during the 1970’s and 1980’s. John Odhiambo, as a light-middleweight, had been scheduled to represent Uganda at the boycotted 1976 Olympics. Vitalish Bbege and Vitalish Nyamor-Bbege, both regarded as Flensburg boxing legends, are well settled in Germany with their families. Offspring Dennis Nyamor Bbege is a boxer. Others of the Bbege descendants include Iris Bbege, Nancy Bbege, and Elvis-Aaron Bege.

Jonathan Musere

Amos Omolo and John Akii-Bua: Comparative Performances of Two Major Uganda Runners

May 18, 2011

Amos Omolo, born in 1937, was a Kenyan immigrant running for Uganda, a well-built 5’10” sprinter (100m, 200m, 400m and the relays). John Akii-Bua, born roughly a decade later in 1949, was an indigenous northern Ugandan, a sprinter, a javelin thrower, a decathlete; and for the most part a hurdler, 400m and 4x400m relay runner. Akii-Bua at 6’2″ was of a lean and well-muscled build. Both Omolo and Akii-Bua were of the Luo language-speaking ethnic grouping of east Africa. Both were policemen. While Omolo was Uganda’s most renowned track star of the 1960’s, Akii-Bua was in turn Uganda’s most significant track athlete of the 1970’s. Akii-Bua’s athletic prowess was discovered relatively early in life when he joined the police force while in his teens. However, Amos Omolo started harvesting his track running abilities relatively late in life, a late bloomer. It was while he was in his mid-twenties that Omolo became a significant international runner; and his personal records were achieved when he was in his early thirties before he soon retired.

The Olympics
Both Omolo and Akii-Bua are significantly remembered for their feats at the Olympics; Omolo especially in 1968 (Mexico City) and Akii especially in 1972 (Munich). At both, the two Olympians ran a full finals’ lap: Omolo in the 400 meters, and Akii-Bua in the 400 meters-hurdles. In both of these Olympic finals, the world record was broken. There were sharp contrasts in the finals’ lane placements: Akii-Bua was in the innermost lane, one which usually slows runners down from taking shorter strides because of the rounder and tighter circumference; while Omolo ran in the outermost lane 8 which while the turns are easier, the runners are less able to gage their position and progress vis-a-vis the runners in the lower lanes.

At the Olympics of 1972, Akii-Bua then in his early 20’s, was relatively young. Amos Omolo in the Olympic finals of 1968, aged 31, was relatively advanced in age and the oldest among the finalists. He was also Uganda’s oldest Olympics participant. In a 400m Olympic quarter-finals heat, Omolo would win in a Uganda record time of 45.33. This national record remained intact for nearly three decades. Akii-Bua’s Olympic gold medal win in the 400 meters-hurdles in 1972 involved the establishment of a 47.82 world record that would stay intact for four years. As a Uganda national record, it has remained intact for four decades. On the other hand, Omolo was beaten into 8th and last place at the 400m finals in 1968. Nevertheless, the crowned gold medallist Lee Edward Evans of the United States had established a new world record that would survive for more than two decades. While Lee Evans here became the first man to ever run a sub-44 seconds 400m, John Akii-Bua in winning became the first man to ever officially run the 400 meters-hurdles below 48 seconds. While Amos Omolo was Uganda’s first Olympic track and field finalist, John Akii-Bua was Uganda’s first Olympic gold medallist and track and field world record holder.

In Mexico City at the Olympics, on October 16th 1968, fifty-five international athletes that were placed in eight heats, were scheduled to run in Round One of the 400m. The four top finishers in each of the heats would advance to the quarter-finals. Amos Omolo won in his Heat Five, finishing in 45.85, a new national record. Four quarter-final heats were ran the next day. Omolo again performed impressively, winning in Heat Two in a new Uganda record of 45.33. The four top finishers in each heat, moved on to the two semi-final heats which would be run later that day. Omolo’s performance in the semi-finals was not as fruitful. The second semi-finals’ witnessed Omolo finishing fourth in 45.52. Of significance, the winner of this heat Lee Edward Evans at age 21 established a new Olympic record time of 44.83. Omolo had narrowly missed being axed from advancing to the finals. The finals were set to feature three African Americans, three Africans, and two Europeans. The next day, October 18th, Omolo was placed in outermost lane in the final; the only Commonwealth of Nations’ finalist. The gun went off, Omolo ran a relatively fast 200m, but thereafter tired and slowed down and seemingly lost hope. He finished last and his time of 47.61 was more than two seconds behind seventh placed Andrzej Baderiski of Poland. Omolo was known to fluctuate widely in his performances, sometimes performing excellently and sometimes performing surprisingly poorly relative to his recent performances. American Lee Evans in lane 6, under pressure from his two fellow Americans Lawrence “Larry” James and Ron Freeman, had won in an astounding world record of 43.86. All three Americans were less than 22 years old, the youngest among the finalists.

As for Akii-Bua at the Olympics in the 400mh in 1972, in all three rounds including the finals, he ran in either lane one or lane two. In the first qualifying round that took place on August 31st, Akii was placed in the fourth heat (out of the five) in lane two. The top three finishers of each heat plus one next top finisher would move on to the semi-finals. Akii-Bua won in his heat, finishing in 50.35 seconds. The two semi-finals heats were held the next day. Akii, placed in lane two, won in a relatively fast time of 49.25, followed by world leading Ralph Mann (USA) in 49.53, followed by Olympic champion Dave Hemery (Great Britain) in 49.66. The four leading finishers of each of the semi-final heats would move on to the finals. Next day, September 2nd witnessed Akii-Bua make history by breaking the world record and being the first to officially run the race below 48 seconds. He had done it in 47.82 seconds while running in the restrictive lane one, while the runners-up (same sequence of finishing as their semi-final heat) were in the more favorable lanes 6 (Ralph Mann who won silver with a time of 48.51) and lane 5 (Dave Hemery with a bronze medal finish of 48.52). After four decades, Akii-Bua remains Uganda’s only Olympic gold-medallist and Africa’s only Olympic gold medal hurdler as well as short-distance runner. What Amos Omolo did not achieve for Uganda at the Olympics in 1968, Akii-Bua rose to the occasion in 1972 to cement for Uganda, Africa, and the rest of the world!

Amos Omolo and William Santino Dralu, Uganda’s top sprinters, were selected to run the 100m and 200m dashes respectively in Mexico City in 1968. All the rounds and the final were ran on October 13th 1968. Omolo was placed in the second heat of Round One. There were nine heats and the top three finishers in each heat, plus the next five fastest runners would move on to the quarter-finals. Omolo finished fourth in this preliminary round, posting a time of 10.50. The time would enable him to move on to the quarter-finals. Omolo was placed in the third heat (out of four) of the quarter-finals. The first four of each heat would move on to the semi-finals. Competition was quite intense. Omolo was beaten into 7th place and out of the competition; but with a time of 10.45, he had improved on his previous timing. Also significant was the breaking of the world record, twice in this quarter-final. The world record was set by Hermes Ramirez of Cuba (10.10), and later by Charlie Greene of USA (10.02). In the finals, American Jim Hines would win the gold medal in a world record time of 9.95, the silver would go to Lennox Miller of Jamaica, and Charlie Greene would win the bronze.

The flashback to the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo involved Omolo competing in the 400m and the 4x100m relay. On October 17th 1964, Omolo was scheduled to run in the third heat (out of seven) of the preliminary round. The top four runners of each heat, plus the next four top finishers would move on to the next round. Omolo aged 27 finished in a time of 47.6 in the very first round, and his 5th place would not allow Omolo to advance to the next round. On October 20th, Omolo was part of Uganda’s 4x100m relay team (with Erasmus Amukun, Aggrey Awori, and James Odongo) that was eliminated in the preliminary round. Uganda’s relay group finished 6th in 41.4 seconds.

As for Akii-Bua, Uganda politically boycotted the 1976 Olympics that were held in Montreal. Akii had been scheduled to compete for Uganda in the 400 meters-hurdles and had been training and competing in Germany and USA. He even ran a 45.82 personal best in the 400m flat in 1976. However, the third week of June, Akii tore a thigh (left hamstring) muscle that would have reduced his chances of winning a medal or even competing at the 1976 Olympics at Montreal.

The Olympics that were held in Moscow in July 1980 were also boycotted by many countries, significantly reducing the pool and strength of the competitors. Akii’s performance had declined, but he qualified to represent Uganda again in the 400mh and in addition the 4x400m relay. On July 24th, Akii ran in the first heat (out of the three) of the first round of the 400 meters-hurdles. He was in the relatively favorable middle-lane 4, a far cry from the Olympics of 1972 where he had been placed in either restrictive lane one or two in all three rounds including the final. Aged 30 in Moscow, Akii was the oldest of the competitors in the low hurdles. In this first round, on July 24 1980, Akii finished 5th in 50.87 seconds. He moved onto the semi-finals given that he was one of the next four fastest hurdlers to the top four fastest finishers of each of the heats. The next day, Akii-Bua, drawn in the outermost lane 8 in the semi-final, finished 7th in 51.10 seconds. He was eliminated from moving on to the finals. On July 31, Akii-Bua was in heat two of the first round of the 4x400m relay. Despite having Africa’s strongest long-relay team in Moscow, Uganda finished 5th (3:07.0) in this first round and was disabled from moving on to the semi-finals. Uganda’s other relay athletes were Silver Ayoo, Charles Dramiga, and Pius Olowo.

Both Akii-Bua and Amos Omolo apparently represented Uganda at two Olympic venues, and both their Olympic finales were when they were in their early 30’s. Omolo was less consistent in his performances whereby he sometimes achieved exceptional times and sometimes was simply satisfactory. But notably, Omolo’s personal best performances were when he was in his thirties. Akii-Bua’s personal best records were attained when he was in his early and mid-twenties. Akii was a determined athlete despite the unfavorable social and political climate of Uganda at that time. Amos Omolo competed for Uganda during a period of relative peace.

The Commonwealth of Nations Games
The then British Empire Commonwealth Games in 1962 took place in Perth in Australia in the last week of November. Amos Omolo was scheduled to represent Uganda in the 440 yards dash and in the 4x440y relay. Uganda’s relay team would eventually not participate in the relay. As for the 440y, on November 26th 25 year-old Omolo impressively won in the third (of a total 6 heats) of the first round, finishing in 47.20 seconds. Next came the two semi finals in which qualifying Omolo was placed in the second one. Here on November 26th, Omolo (46.96) was beaten into second place by George Kerr (46.93) of Jamaica in a photo-finish. The finals, later in the day would be quite a battle between the top three finishers. In another photo-finish, George Kerr (46.74) won the gold medal, Robbie Brightwell of England won silver, and Omolo (46.88) won the bronze. The next runner-up finished nearly one second behind. Omolo emerged as a formidable and promising runner in the Commonwealth and in Africa. This would be Uganda’s only athletics medal at the venue, one of Uganda’s first medals at such internationally significant games. It was also an exciting time for Uganda as it closely followed the granting of political independence from Britain on October 9th 1962.

The 1966 Commonwealth Games would be hosted by Kingston in Jamaica from August 5th to 13th. Omolo would again be placed to represent Uganda in the 440y and in the 4x400y relay. The preliminary round of the 440y would be contested on August 8th and Omolo was placed in the fourth heat. Omolo (48.3) finished second to Martin Winbolt Lewis of England (47.6) and advanced to the semi-finals that would be contested on August 11th. Omolo was placed in the second of the two semi-final heats. Omolo finished 6th in 47.84 seconds and was eliminated from moving on to the finals. He had therefore failed to replicate his presence in the finals in which he had won the bronze at the previous Commonwealth Games venue.

Next for Omolo would be the long relay on August 13th. There was just one preliminary (semi-final) round before the final and Uganda was placed in the second of the two heats. Uganda’s relay team of Omolo, George Odeke (future national coach and prominent sports administrator), Francis Hategakimana (Hatega), and Asuman Bawala Nkedi won in their heat (3:13.4), but the runners in the other (first) heat were relatively faster. The finals saw Uganda turning up a disappointing 8th and last place in 3:13.6. Trinidad and Tobago won in 3:02.8, followed by Canada, then bronze for Great Britain & Northern Ireland. Also, all of Uganda’s 4x400y relay runners had, including Omolo competed in the individual 400y but had not performed well.

Edinburgh in Scotland would be the next venue for the Commonwealth Games, from July 17th to 25th in 1970. Omolo had been a finalist in the 400m at the Olympic Games of 1968, and was 8th. In Edinburgh, Omolo was nearly 33 years old which was at that time considered a relatively advanced age for a sprinter. This time Omolo was placed to to run only in the 100m for Uganda. His performance in the second heat (out of the 8 preliminary heats) was lukewarm. Omolo was eliminated from the competition after finishing 6th in a time of 10.76 seconds. This would be Omolo’s last Commonwealth Games’ performance. Uganda was in contention for the men’s 4x400m relay, but the team of Bill (William) Koskei, Charles Obilu, William Santino Dralu, and Daniel Oboth would be disqualified during the preliminary heats.

John Akii-Bua’s presence in Edinburgh would be the first and last time he would represent Uganda at the Commonwealth Games. This quite contrasted with Omolo’s three-time presence at the Commonwealth Games. Internationally unknown Akii-Bua aged 20 would compete in the 110 meters-hurdles and in the 400 meters-hurdles. On July 17th, Akii was placed in the first heat (out of the three) of the preliminary round of the 110mh. He finished fourth in 14.39 seconds, and advanced to the semi-finals. Interestingly, the winner in this heat and eventual gold medallist was David Hemery of England who had won gold in the 400mh at the Olympics of 1968 in a new world record, and who would win the bronze medal at the next Olympic venue in which Akii would win the gold and break Hemery’s world record. The semi-finals of the 110mh in Edinburgh would be contested the next day–July 18th. Akii Bua finished 5th in 14.43 seconds, coming short of moving on to the finals.

On the same day July 18th, Akii ran in the first round of the 400mh. He was placed in the second heat of the three heats, and he won in 51.82 seconds. Next would be two semi-final heats on July 21. Akii, in the first semi-final finished second (51.94) after John Sherwood of England. The second semi-final was won by Uganda’s Bill Koskei in 51.39 seconds. In the finals that were ran on the same day, Akii (51.14) was beaten into fourth place behind gold medallist John Sherwood (50.03), silver medallist Bill Koskei (50.15), and Charles Yego of Kenya (50.19).

Akii-Bua’s first significant introduction to the athletic world was his 400 meters-hurdles win at the Africa vs USA (USA-Pan African) meet on 17th July 1971 in Durham, North Carolina. Akii-Bua won in an astonishing 49 seconds, a new Africa record, and the fastest time of the year.

All-Africa Games
At these continental games, Amos Omolo competed at venues in the 1960’s but did not win any medals. On the other hand, Akii-Bua won a gold and silver medals at these Games. The first of these Games were held in 1965 in the capital Brazzaville of Congo. Akii was at the All-Africa Games in Lagos in January 1973, fresh from the Olympic gold and world record setting in Munich in the Fall of 1972. Akii-Bua’s winning time in Lagos was in an excellent 48.54 seconds, nearly two seconds ahead of runners up William Koskei (50.22) of Kenya, and Silver Ayoo (50.25) of Uganda. It was the fastest 400mh time ever recorded on the continent. Akii was also part of the 1973 4x400m relay Uganda team (3:07.21) that won the bronze medal behind winners Kenya (3:06.38) and silver medallists Nigeria (3:06.98).

The erratic occurring All-Africa Games were held five years later, in 1978. This time in Algiers in Algeria, Akii (49.55) was narrowly beaten into second place by Daniel Kimaiyo (49.48) of Kenya. Akii, similar to the previous venue, additionally was part of the 4x400m relay team. This time, the Uganda team performed significantly better, both in positioning and time recorded. In the finals in 1978, the winner was Nigeria (3:03.24) followed by silver medallists Uganda (3:04.20), thereafter Kenya (3:05.92). This would be Akii’s last appearance at the All-Africa Games. The next venue would be in 1987 in Nairobi in Kenya.

East and Central African Championships
In 1968, when the venue was Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Omolo won the gold medal in the 400m, finishing in 46.7 seconds. Earlier, in 1964, with the venue Kisumu in Kenya, Omolo was part of Uganda’s 4x400m relay team that won the gold medal.

Akii-Bua’s haul of gold medal wins at these champions was bigger than Omolo’s. The championships in Kampala in 1969 involved Akii-Bua winning the gold in the 110 meters-hurdles in 14.6 seconds. In 1971, in Lusaka in Zambia, Akii won the gold in the 400 meters-hurdles with a finishing time of 50.5 seconds. At the same distance, Akii-Bua would again win gold in 1975 when the venue was Mombasa in Kenya. He was timed at 50.2 seconds. At the same venue, Akii was part of Uganda’s 4x400m relay team that won the gold in 3:09.01.

Amid the many comparisons and contrasts, Amos Omolo and Akii-Bua will forever reign among Uganda’s and Africa’s greatest athletes. As Omolo was retiring from athletics, young Akii-Bua was beginning to shine. Akii took over the helm to attain the universal top athletic status that Omolo had strived to but failed to achieve. Akii-Bua has for four centuries remained Uganda’s most significant track athlete.

Murphy, F. The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City. Windsprint Press, Michigan: 2006.

Phillips, B. Honour of Empire, Glory of Sport: the History of Athletics at the Commonwealth Games. Parrs Wood, Michigan: 2000.

Jonathan Musere

Filbert Bayi Sanka: Tanzania’s Superstar Athlete and the Path to the World Records

May 13, 2011


Legendary Kenyan athlete Hezekiah Kipchoge “Kip” Keino had in October 1968 under searing temperatures in the high-humidity and high-altitude Mexico City, and against medical advice because of his stomach ailments and weakness, won the Olympic gold medal in the 1500 meters (establishing a new Olympic record of 3min. 34.91sec.). Kip Keino even managed to bag the silver medal in the 5000 meters, finishing behind legendary Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi, and ahead of the third Naftali Temu who had won the very first ever Olympic gold for Kenya by earlier winning in the 10000 meters. Keino had collapsed from weakness while competing in the 10000 meters, but would rise up and congratulate and hug his young team-mate at the finishing line.

A versatile, enthusiastic, patriotic, and determined middle- and long-distance runner, Kip Keino now in Munich in the summer of 1972 was now a 32 year-old veteran and an Olympian for a third consecutive time. But Keino, amidst the youthful competition, defied his age. In Mexico City, in 1968, only two of the 52 other competitors in the 1500m had been older than the then 28 year-old Keino. In Munich at age 32, Keino was very much the elderly statesman in the 1500m line-up. Furthermore, the astonishing Keino had only four months earlier started to embrace the 3000m steeplechase. And he did qualify in the steeplechase to compete for Kenya! Keino had taken the steeplechase seriously after he had found that the Olympic schedule would not allow him to compete in both the 1500m and the 5000m.

Compared to glorious Keino, a very unknown commodity in the person of Filbert Sanka Bayi was in Munich to represent another east African country–Tanzania. Keino was undoubtedly one of Bayi’s foremost idols and inspirations. Keino remains the most immortal name among African track athletes!

Filbert Bayi, an athlete with an “afro-hairstyle” and boyish looks, had grown up near Arusha on a farm in Karutu within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bayi left school at age 17 and migrated to the capital Dar-es-Salaam. Bayi’s early running training was relatively crude. In the crowded, high-humidity capital, Bayi would pick out and sprint alongside a moving bus and rest when the bus was loading and unloading passengers—some form of interval training. In 1971 Bayi achieved a reasonably good personal best of 3min 52 seconds in the 1500m.


It was earlier in 1972, Bayi’s personal bests and national wins in the 1500m (3:45) and steeplechase (8:55) qualified him to represent Tanzania at the Olympic Games in Munich.

In Munich, Filbert Bayi, a tall 19 year-old lightweight, a Tanzania airforce technician just so happened to be scheduled to compete in the same two events that Kip Keino was enrolled: the 1500m and the 3000m steeplechase. And while Keino was the elder, Filbert Bayi was one of two 19 year-olds that were youngest of the steeplechase competitors. There would only be four heats, and the top three finishers in each round would advance to the finals. The heats took place on September 1, 1972. Bayi was drawn in Heat One, the same heat that included Keino. Tapio Kantanen of Finland won (with an Olympic Record of 8:24. , Keino was second, and the third finals’ qualifier was Takaharu Koyama of Japan. Bayi was ninth with a time of 8:41.4 (a Tanzania national record) and therefore was out of the competition. Heat Two witnessed Kenya’s legendary Benjamin Jipcho win; in Heat Three another Finn Pekka Paivarinta won. The Fourth Heat was won by another Kenyan legend Amos Biwott who had won the steeplechase Olympic gold four years earlier. Biwott’s finish in 8:23.73 broke the Olympic record that had been established three heats ago! Notably, Biwott’s steeplechase win in 1968 would be the beginning of the consecutive dominance of the steeplechase by Kenyans at the Olympics (apart from the 1976 and 1980 Games which Kenya boycotted) that has yet to be shattered!

The finals of the steeplechase were held on September 7th, 1972. Kip Keino would win in a new Olympic record of 8:23.64, followed by Benjamin “Ben” Wabura Jipcho (8:24.62), and the bronze was won by Tapio Kantanen (8:24.66). Amos Biwott came in sixth in a time of 8:33.48.

As for the 1500m, seven heats were established for Round One to take place on September 8th. The fastest four of each heat (plus two wild cards) would advance to the semi-finals. Filbert Bayi was eliminated when in Heat Two he finished sixth out of 8 competitors. But commendably, Bayi had again established another new national record–3:45.4. Keino won in Heat Four and was followed by Rod Dixon of New Zealand. Heat Six was won by Pekka Vasala of Finland; and Heat Seven was won by another Kenyan legend Mike Boit. The semi-finals were held on September 9th. Mike Boit, Keino, and Rod Dixon won in the three Heats. Ten that including big names in the competition such as Pekka Vasala and Brendan Foster (GBR) were set for the 1500m finals showdown. On September 10, Keino worked to psychologically wear down the competition, but in the final stretch of the 1500m he was outsprinted by 24 year-old Pekka Vasala (3:36.33) of Finland and settled for the silver (3:36.81). This was regarded by many as an upset. Rod Dixon of New Zealand claimed the bronze, Mike Boit was fourth, and Brendan Foster was fifth. What would become of Filbert Bayi?

The annual East and Central African Championships were next held in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, comfortably Bayi’s territory. Bayi was not disappointing. On December 3rd, 1972, only 3 months after the Olympics, Bayi became a regional champion in the 1500m. He won in an impressive time of 3:38.9, not only a national record but a shaving off of more than 5 seconds from the national record he had established less than three months earlier at the Olympics. Two Kenyans Wilson Waigwa and D. Mungai won the silver and bronze, respectively. Bayi was fast gaining the confidence to face even more formidable competition.


Bayi would compete again with Keino at the second All-Africa Games which were held in Lagos in Nigeria in January 1973. It would be interesting. On January 11th in a 1500m heat that included both runners, a slow and relaxed run witnessed Bayi take second place in 3:48.32, following Olympian Shibrou Regassa (Ethiopia), then Kip Keino jogging in third. Keino was quick to say that he had relaxed and simply wanted to make it to the finals. Keino assured the public that the finals would be very different from what had happened in the Heat. But perhaps all those years of running and victory had exacted a toll on the aging veteran. On January 13th, Filbert Bayi taking the lead from the start, beat Keino, winning in the finals in a commendable time of 3:37.18, yet another Tanzania national record. Shibrou Regassa was third. Notably, Bayi had suffered a bout of malaria just before the Games. Henceforth Africans and the rest of the world started to take a second serious look at this new Tanzanian phenomenon that had emerged from nowhere. Kipchoge Keino would retire from competitive sports in 1974 as an ITA (International Track Association) professional, but he was impressed by Bayi to whom he offered congratulations and encouraging words.

A string of wins in international competition, followed in 1973. In Paris, near the end of May, Bayi won in the 1000m and established an Africa record of 2:19.5. Then in Boras in Sweden in early June, Bayi won the 1500m in a relaxed 3:45.5. The next day in Strangnas also in Sweden, Bayi won in the 1500m in 3:44.6. Again in Sweden, this time in Stockholm, Bayi won in quite a fast 3:37.9 on June 12th.

Then on the June 14th, Bayi changed gears and went for the 800m in Potsdam in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Bayi was beaten by 2-time Olympian Dieter Fromm (GDR) into second place, but Bayi managed to establish a Tanzania record of 1:46.9.

A week later on June 21st, at the Kusocinski Memorial Meet held in Warsaw in Poland, Bayi won in the 1500m, finishing in 3:37.9. He then flew to Denmark to participate in the Aarhus Games. Here Bayi won the 1500m in 3:35.6, a new Tanzania record! Bayi was moving up fast and furiously! Danish Olympian Tom Hansen was second, and Olympian Rolf Gysin of Switzerland was third.

Only four days later, on June 28th at the World Games held in Helsinki in 1973, Bayi won the 1500m in what would be the world best time in the 1500m–3:34.6–yet another Tanzania record. This race was significant in that it included many notable international athletes that included Kenyans Mike Boit and Ben Jipcho, and Americans Steve Prefontaine and Dave Wottle, among others. Bayi would display to the world his signature way of running—take the lead with a fast pace right from the starting of the race!. Bayi had ran a blistering 53.6 in the first 400m, 1:51.6 at the 800m mark, and 2:52.2 at the 1200m mark! David Wottle (800m Olympic gold medallist) was second (3:36.2), and Ben Jipcho (Olympic silver medallist) was third (3:36.6).

The very next day, June 29th, this time in a track meet in Vasteras in Sweden, Bayi was again the victor in the 1500m, winning in 3:40.7.

Again in Sweden, this time at a meet in Stockholm, but this time running the slightly longer one mile, Bayi was challenged by an impressive field that included Jipcho and Emiel Puttemans. It was July 2nd, 1973. This time, Ben Jipcho won, beating Bayi into second place. But Bayi did establish a Tanzania mile record of 3:52.86. At hand to watch the much anticipated battle between 20 year-old Bayi and 30 year-old Jipcho for a possible world record in the mile, were 18120 spectators in Stockholm’s Olympic Stadium. Near the end of the race, the leading Bayi started to tire and Jipcho (who had been 10 yards behind) passed Bayi about 75 yards before the finishing line. Jipcho, encouraged by a standing cheering audience, had established the fastest mile in Europe in 3:52.0, one of the three fastest times ever recorded in the world, and a new Kenya and African record. Bayi had set quite a trying pace: 400m–52.5, 800m–1:51.1, and 1200m-2:52.2.

Only three days later, July 5th at the Oslo International, Bayi true to form, beat an impressive field. He won in the 1500m in an impressive 3:37.6. On the 19th of July, Bayi was in Tunis to compete in the African Youth Festival Championships. Bayi won in the 1500m in 3:45.3. Second place was captured by Suleiman Nyambui, another Tanzanian who is only a couple of months older than Bayi. Nyambui would continue to be one of Bayi’s track rivals and he would gradually become a national sports icon. On July 24th at the Bislett Games held in Oslo, this time in the 800m, Bayi was beaten into second place by 20 year-old John George Walker of New Zealand–another of Bayi’s more enduring historical track rivals! Walker won in 1:46.3. Still, Bayi’s time of 1:46.7 was a new Tanzania record.

The next day, July 25th, Bayi was at a track meet in Stockholm. He won in the 1500m, finishing in a good time of 3:38.46. Soon afterwards, on August 4th, Filbert Bayi was ready to run the 1500m at the Africa vs. USA Meet that was taking place in Dakar in Senegal. This time Bayi was beaten into second place by his older and more experienced rival Ben Jipcho. But Bayi’s time of 3:37.85 was impressive. Twelve days later, at the Latin America vs. Africa Meet held in Guadalajara in Mexico on August 16th, Bayi achieved first place in the 1500m in a time of 3:40.6. There followed a relatively long interval, until Bayi competed in Nairobi. In the 1500m, Bayi started off very fast, 52.0 in the first 400m, 1:52.0 at the 800m mark. But the abysmally high pace likely cost Bayi the race. He was beaten into second place by another Kenyan legend John Kipkurgat. The then 29 year-old Kipkurgat is mostly renowned for having competed in the 800m.


Nearly exactly a year after Bayi, in beating Kip Keino, had won in the 1500m in Lagos at the All-Africa Games, the very busy athlete was ready to meet the impressive middle-distance line-up at the Commonwealth of Nations Games held in Christchurch in New Zealand. Bayi would compete in the 800m followed by the 1500m.

On January 19th of 1974, about a week prior to the Commonwealth Games, Filbert Bayi was beaten into second place in the 800m by Kenyan Olympic bronze medallist Mike Boit. Nevertheless, Bayi was impressive in his setting of a new Tanzania record–1:46.0.

In Heat One of the actual Commonwealth Games, Bayi won in the 800m in 1:47.09. This was on January 27th 1974. The winners of the other three heats, respectively, were familiar middle distance giants: John Kipkurgat, John Walker, and Mike Boit. The top four finishers of each heat would be placed among the two semi-final rounds to be held later in the day. Bayi was placed in the second semi-final. In Semi-Final One, the top four finishers were advanced to the finals and they were John Kipkurgat, Andy Carter (England), Daniel Omwanza (Kenya), and Phil Lewis (Wales). Semi-Final Two witnessed Bayi (1:46.56) advance to the finals although he was beaten into fourth place, perhaps him relaxing and simply contented with qualifying for the final round. Mike Boit won in this semi-final, followed by John Walker, then John Hooker (Australia).

In the finals, ran on January 29th, John Kipkurgat of Kenya won impressively in 1:43.91 (a new Africa Record), followed by Mike Boit (1:44.39), and then John Walker (1:44.92). Filbert Bayi was fourth in 1:45.32, nevertheless yet a new Tanzania record! At the 400m mark, Bayi had made a spirited effort to keep up with the tall lanky Kenyans, but they were too fast and too smooth, and Walker would eventually overtake Bayi. Apparently, Bayi was never a strong sprinter so, it benefited him to lead widely from the beginning given his stamina and consistency.

The heats of Bayi’s main specialization, at the Commonwealth Games, the 1500m, would take place on January 31st. There were three heats, Bayi was placed in Heat 2, and the top four finishers of each heat would move on to the finals. Heat One involved Mike Boit (3:44.61) winning, followed by Australian Graham Crouch (3:44.64) , then New Zealander Rod Dixon (1:44.64), then fourth was Englishman Brendan Foster (3:44.89). The second heat would turn out to be by far the fastest of the heats. Here the top four were Filbert Bayi (3:38.18), John Kirkbride of England (3:39.79), David Fitzsimons of Australia (3:39.92), and Tony Polhill (NZL) in 3:40.30. The final tally of the first four finishers in Heat 3 was John Walker (3:42.52), Bayi’s fellow-countryman Suleiman Nyambui (3:42.57), Australian Randal Markey (3:42.77). Ben Jipcho, probably relaxed and simply contented with advancing to the finals and saving his energy for the ultimate run, was fourth (3:43.55).

The 1974 finals of the 1500m, at the Commonwealth Games, will loom in the minds of many track enthusiasts for a very long time. On February 2nd Bayi would ran his most iconic race, taking the lead from the beginning. The timing at the 400m mark was 54.4, 1:51.8 at the 800m mark, and 2:50.4 at the 1200m mark. Bayi established a new world record of 3:32.16, only 15 months after he had competed and emerged as a mediocre unknown at the Olympics in Munich. But given Bayi’s incredible progress over the course of a year, Bayi had been predicted by many to break the world record. The runners-up also achieved phenomenal and leading world times–John Walker (New Zealand national record)—3:32.52; Ben Jipcho (Kenya national record)—3:33.16; and Rodney Dixon (New Zealand)–3:33.89. Graham Crouch was fifth (3:34.22), Mike Boit was sixth (3:36.84), and Suleiman Nyambui (3:39.62) was eighth. Jipcho’s signature spurt in the last three hundred meters did not manage to stave off the young energetic Walker who was chasing Bayi, and Walker did close up on Bayi in the fight for the gold. About taking the lead right from the start, Bayi would remark, “I got boxed in [at the Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich] and was never able to take the lead. …So now I take the lead from the start” (in “Bayi Breaks Record in 1500 Meter Race,” by AP in Rome News-Tribune, February 3,1974).

The employment of a fast rabbit in this race would likely have produced a faster world record. Also, in the race, the leading Bayi often looked behind at his competition–perhaps an indication that he had expected the other athletes to chase him faster than they had done, and for him to achieve a better time. Also, Bayi’s fast previous semi-final may apparently mean that he had fewer energy reserves for the finals than did most of the other elite competitors. In the end Bayi was elated and jumped up and down as he jogged in front of the appreciating jubilant crowd after his world-record win. Bayi was used to winning, so it was the world record that was the more exciting. Filbert Bayi had erased the 1500m world record that had previously been held by legendary American James Ronald (“Jim”) Ryun. Bayi had shattered the world record by nearly one second, and Walker had also finished below Ryun’s previous record. Legendary Jipcho who finished slightly outside the previous record, had already won gold in both the steeplechase and the 5000m. His gallant endeavor to win an unprecedented Commonwealth Games triple gold became thwarted!

The previous 1500m world-record run on July 8th 1967, during the USA vs. British Commonwealth of Nations track meet in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, mostly involved a memorable duel between Kip Keino and Ryun. The two exchanged the lead a couple of times in the fast pace, Ryun ran away from Keino near the end of the race and established a new world record of 3:33.1. The world record (3:35.6) established by Australian Herb Elliot on September 5th 1960 was no more. This was undoubtedly one of Ryun’s greatest running performances. Track and Field News reported that “after 220 yards of dawdling, a record seemed out of the question.” However, after 440 yards, which Ryun, in third place, passed in 60.9 seconds, Kip Keino took the lead and ran the next lap in 56 seconds (the fastest second lap ever run in the 1500m at that time). Ryun, just behind, passed the 880-yard mark in 1:57.0. At 1320 yards the two were side by side in 2:55.0. Ryun pulled away to finish in 3:33.1, a record that stood for seven years. With a last 440 yards of 53.9 and a last 880 yards of 1:51.3, Cordner Nelson of Track and Field News called it “the mightiest finishing drive ever seen,” and said of Ryun’s performance, “This was most certainly his greatest race.”

On June 5th 1974, in the Tanzania capital Dar-es-Salaam, Filbert Bayi won in the 800m during the national championships after a relatively long layoff from primary competition. The finishing time was a modest 1:49.7. Later on, on June 27th in Helsinki, at the Top Games, Bayi was for the first time beaten in the 1500m by main rival John Walker. The winning time margin was quite significant: Walker finished in 3:33.89 and Bayi was second (3:37:20). On just the next day, at the International Meet in Vasteras in Sweden, Bayi changed gears to the 800m and was able to win in 1:47.1, beating legendary Kenyan Olympic 800m finalist and 4x400m relay gold medallist and also 1970 Commonwealth of Nations 800m and 4x400m relay gold medallist Robert Ouko. Soon after, in Stockholm at the Dagens Nyheter Galan meet, Bayi won in the one mile in quite an impressive 3:54.10 on July 1st. The next day, in the same event, Bayi won in the 1500m, finishing in 3:43.16. Soon afterwards, on July 4th, Bayi was at the Bislett Games in Oslo. But, he uncharacteristically, probably from injury, did not finish in the 1500m. The winner was Tom-Birger Hansen (Denmark) who was tenth in the 1500m at the Olympics held in Munich; Olympic silver medallist Mike Boit of Kenya was fifth in this meet in Oslo.


After quite a long layoff from international competition, Bayi emerged in 1975 at the New Zealand Games right in Christchurch where he had set the world record. This time, on January 20th, Bayi competed in and won in the infrequent 3000m and won in 7:53.9. Four days later at the New Zealand Games in the same city, Bayi won in the 800m (1:45.49), beating second-placed John Walker (1:45.9) and even 800m Commonwealth Games gold medallist John Kipkurgat who was third. The finals of the 800m, at an International meet in Auckland on January 28th witnessed Walker winning (1:46.7) in the 800m, Bayi racing in second (1:47.3), and John Kipkurgat beaten into a disappointing third place. At the end of January, Bayi competed in the Milrose Games in New York, winning in the mile in his first indoor performance in 3:59.3.

Soon afterwards, on February 7th, Bayi competed in Los Angeles (Inglewood) at the Los Angeles Times (160y indoor) track meet. Here, in the mile, Bayi won in 3:59.6, and beat off John Walker who was second in 3:59.9. On February 15th, in San Diego at the Jack in the Box Invitational (160y indoor track), Bayi significantly improved on his personal best through winning in 3:56.4, again beating nemesis John Walker (3:56.9) who was second. February 21st witnessed Bayi winning in the 1500m at the Olympic Invitational in new York. His finishing time was 3:41.2, ahead of second-placed Irish future legendary indoor world-record holder Eamonn Coghlan. At the AAU Indoor Championships in New York, on February 28th, Bayi won in the mile in a moderate 4:02.1. Then on the 6th day of March, in Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona in Italy, Bayi won in an unconventional 9.5 km cross-country race, ahead of New Zealanders Euan Robertson and then John Walker in third place.

After three months, Bayi was back again in international competition, again in an Italian city Formia. At the Citta di Formia, on May 8th 1975, Bayi won in the infrequently ran 1000m with a delivery of a national record of 2:18.1. On May 10th, again in another Italy city Caserta, Bayi won in the 800m at an international meet. The competition was not strong, and the finishing time was relatively modest: 1:48.3. But it was one of the tune-ups for Bayi’s next legendary run.

On May 17th 1975, Sergeant Filbert Bayi had traveled all the way to the capital Kingston of Jamaica to compete in the mile at the Martin Luther King International Freedom Games. The competition was quite formidable and it included Eamonn Coghlan and American legend Martin “Marty” Liquori. Bayi confidently stood in the inner lane at the start line and immediately took the lead when the gun went off. During the first 600 meters, Bayi ran away from the other athletes and maintained a considerable length of lead just before Liquori and Coghlan began zeroing down on him and attempted to overtake him. But this simply encouraged Bayi to run faster and wear them out. The rest of the runners were considerably far behind. At the 440 yard mark, Bayi was timed at 56.9, 1: 56.9 at 880 yards, 2:55.3 at 1320 yards, and an amazing 3:35.0 at 1500m. In this “Dream Mile” (or “Miracle Mile”), Filbert Bayi broke Jim Ryun’s world record by establishing a time of 3:51.0. Bayi had shaved a tenth of a second off Jim Ryun’s record set in June 1967 in Bakersfield in California at the National Amateur Athletic Union meet. The previous 1500m record that Bayi broke had also been held by Ryun. In the “Dream Mile,” Marty Liquori of Philadelphia was second (3:52.1), followed by Eamonn Coghlan (3:53.3) then at Philadelphia’s Villanova University.

When interviewed, Bayi would remark, “I run hard at the start because that way I don’t have to run in a bunch. They have to catch me. …When I run from the front I know what kind of strength I have. ..I didn’t know if I was running a world record. …All I was doing was trying to win (In Bayi New King of Milers; Williams Outsprints McTear,” by AP in St. Petersburg Times, May 19, 1975).

On August 12th 1975, nearly only three months after Bayi had slightly shattered the mile world record, his main nemesis the 6′ 1″ tall and sizeable (185 pounds, about 50 pounds heavier than Bayi) 23 year-old New Zealander John Walker further lowered the record by an astounding 1.6 seconds! The new record became 3:49.4, the first ever timing below the 3:50, established at the Goteborg Games in Germany. Bayi was not among the competitors in this world-record run, but the margin of more than 5 seconds ahead of second placed Kenneth Hall of Australia was also significant. Walker had, this year lost three times to Bayi, two times indoors.


In 1975, John Walker would become number one with the leading time of 3:32.4. Bayi would be ranked second with the time of 3:35.0 this year. !In 1976, Bayi again dropped down to third in ranking (3:34. behind John Walker (3:34:19) and Thomas Wessighage of Germany (3:34.80). In 1977, Bayi was not on top 10 list. Walker was still number one, followed by Steve Ovett of Great Britain. In 1978 Bayi was ranked world second behind Dave Moorcroft of Great Britain, and it would be the last year that Bayi would be among the leading 1500m ten runners of the world. This year he lost the Commonwealth 1500m crown to the same Dave Moorcroft, Bayi winning the silver medal.

Bayi’s athletic performances reached their apex during 1973 to 1977. Thereafter, Bayi continued to perform relatively excellently and he also progressively participate in more of the longer distances such as the 3000m, 3000m steeplechase, and 5000m. Bayi was far better at the longer distances than the 800m. At the same time, competition intensified with more and more people all over the world were taking on athletic careers as the dividends from sports opportunities became more and more lucrative. Competition became progressively more challenging Over the four years toward the end of his indulgence in international competition in 1989, Bayi competed less and less, and concentrated on mainly marathons a couple of times per year. The marathon results were mixed, but notably at the Honolulu Marathon on December 12th 1986, Bayi was fourth placed behind Kenyan legend Ibrahim Hussein and fellow Tanzanians Suleiman Nyambui and Gidamis Shahanga. Bayi’s time was good (2hr:16:16). Bayi’s career in athletics had spanned quite a busy two decades. Bayi stands out as one of the most disciplined, flexible, well-conditioned and dedicated athletes; the greatest athlete that Tanzania has ever produced.

Among the other more notable of Bayi’s achievements were the silver medal in the 1500m at the Commonwealth of Nations Games held in Edmonton in 1978; the silver medal in the 3000m steeplechase (in a new national record) at the Olympics held in Moscow in 1980 (Tanzania did not participate in the Olympics in 1976), several East and Central African gold medal wins, and several African Games wins. The medals that Bayi and Suleiman Nyambui won in Moscow are still the only Olympic medal wins by Tanzanians.

The beginning of the new century witnessed Retired Major Filbert Bayi and his wife commendably setting up a foundation (Filbert Bayi Foundation) and building schools in Tanzania that are intended to tap and develop athletic and educational talent in youngsters as part of discipline, health, economic, and overall empowerment. Bayi’s complex lies in Mkuza which is 50 miles from the capital city Dar-es-Salaam. He is the Secretary-General of the Tanzania Olympic Committee (TOC). Bayi certainly stands out as much greater than his image of one greatest athletes in the world.

Jonathan Musere

The Books of Jonathan Musere

May 13, 2011

Southern Californians’ Attitudes to Immigrants: Blacks Compared to Other Ethnics
by Jonathan Musere
ISBN: 0964596938
ISBN-13: 9780964596931
Format: Paperback, 167pp
Publisher: Ariko Publications
Pub. Date: March 2000
Traditional African Names
by Jonathan Musere
Format: Hardcover, 416pp
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Pub. Date: December 1999
ISBN-13: 9780810836433
African Proverbs and Proverbial Names
by Jonathan Musere
Publisher: Ariko Publications
Pub. Date: April 1999
ISBN-13: 9780964596924
Paperback: 216pp
African Ethnics and Personal Names
By Jonathan Musere, Christopher Odhiambo
ISBN: 0964596911
ISBN-13: 9780964596917
Format: Paperback, 281pp
Publisher: Ariko Publications
Pub. Date: January 1999
African Names and Naming
by Jonathan Musere, Shirley C. Byakutaga
Publisher: Ariko Publications
Format: Paperback, 157pp
Pub. Date: June 1998
ISBN-13: 9780964596900
African Sleeping Sickness: Political Ecology, Colonialism, and Control in Uganda
by Jonathan Musere
Publisher: Edwin Mellen Press
Pub. Date: October 1990
ISBN-10: 0889462801
ISBN-13: 978-0889462809

George Oywello: Uganda’s First Commonwealth of Nations Games Gold Medal Winner

May 13, 2011

The bulging and powerful Uganda Heavyweight boxing champion George Oywello stood at 5’11”. During the early 1960’s, Oywello represented Uganda in several significant national and international boxing competitions, won on many of the occasions. Oywello, will forever be remembered in Uganda sports history as Uganda’s first internationally prominent amateur heavyweight champion; and one of the earliest of Uganda’s foremost inspirations to Uganda’s gaining prominence in the tradition of boxing that became cemented in the 1970’s. Oywello certainly participated in more international boxing competitions than has any other amateur heavyweight champion of Uganda.

George Oywello was born on January 17, 1939 in Gulu in Northern Uganda. He died prematurely, apparently from a road accident, approximately several months after representing Uganda at the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in Japan in 1964.

Oywello’s most significant international presence came with his representing Uganda as a light-heavyweight (81kg) in Rome at the summer Olympic Games games held from August 25 to September 5, 1960. Unfortunately, in just the preliminary rounds, George Oywello succumbed to legendary Gheorghe Negrea of Romania who won by 5-0. Notably, Negrea was the silver medalist at the previous Olympics held in 1956 in Stockholm in Sweden, and he would even go on to represent Romania in the forthcoming Olympics held in 1964 in Tokyo. After defeating Oywello, Gheorghe Negrea did not go far. He was stopped in the quarter-finals by Anthony Madigan of Australia, by a knockout in the second round. In the semi-finals American Cassius Clay (later to become the flashy and flamboyant world heavyweight champion and later to rename himself Muhammad Ali) outpointed Anthony Madigan by 5-0. Cassius Clay would later claim the gold medal.

On October 5, 1962, a friendly dual match took place in Kampala in Uganda between Uganda and England. George Oywello lost to Englishman Dennis Pollard in the light-heavyweight bout, by points. Ugandans J.Kamya, Grace Sseruwagi, Peter Odhiambo, and T. Mwanje also lost to opposing Englishmen. However wins by fellow countrymen J. Wandera, John Sentongo, Kesi Odongo, D. Ochodomuge, and Francis Nyangweso drew national excitement and applause, given that Uganda had boxed to a draw with a mighty foreign power. Kesi Odongo would in the 1970’s become head trainer of the Uganda national boxing. Peter Grace Sseruwagi would become national boxing coach and gain fame for the successes of Uganda boxers in the 1970’s. Francis Nyangweso would become a boxing referee, become a Major-General and a Senior Commander of the Uganda Army during the regime of Idi Amin in the 1970’s, and Nyangweso would for three decades serve as a senor member of the International Olympic Committee. Nyangweso had an illustrious career from the time he was a boxer, and served in several capacities that included stints at being Uganda boxing captain, in addition to the military and political capacities, and the lengthy national and international career in national and international sports administration.

The next significant international opportunity for Oywello came with his representing Uganda as a heavyweight (above 81kg) at the Commonwealth Games that were held in Perth in Australia from November 22 to December 1, 1962. In the quarter-finals, Oywello was pitted against Rocky L. James (Len “Rocky” James) of Wales. James was disqualified in the third round, paving the way for Oywello to take on Holgar Johansen of Fiji. Oywello would win by points. For the finals, Oywello was pitted against William Kini of New Zealand. By beating Kini by points, George Oywello became the first Ugandan to win a gold medal at a major international event! Commendably, other Ugandans (boxers) won medals at the Games held in Perth: John Sentongo and Francis Nyangweso won bronze medals, while Kesi Odongo won a silver medal.

At the African Nations’ Boxing Championships held in Accra in Ghana in 1964, Oywello again displayed his strength and skill by winning in the finals against James Mazhar of Egypt.

The next Olympic Games were held in Tokyo from October 10 to October 24, 1964. Unfortunately, Oywello was knocked out in the first round in the preliminaries by future legendary heavyweight champion and first man to ever beat Muhammad Ali. Oywello was knocked out by none other than Joe Frazier (Joseph William Frazier), in the very first round when the referee stopped the contest. A hard and consistent-punching slugger, Frazier would ultimately become the Olympic gold medal winner, and later in the early 1970’s would establish himself as a legendary world heavyweight champion.

It will never be know regarding what would have become of talented George Oywello, had he not succumbed to a road accident when he was only in his mid-twenties. At the next major international event, the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston in Jamaica in 1966, Heavyweight Benson Ocan who is regarded as Oywello’s successor won bronze. The other two medals won by Uganda also came via boxing: Light-welterweight Alex Odhiambo won bronze, and so did middleweight Mathias Ouma. The sport of boxing was gaining steam in Uganda, and nation’s victories in the amateur ranks would reach their apex in the forthcoming decade–the 1970’s.

Jonathan Musere