Posts Tagged ‘Commonwealth Games’

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

Advertisements

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: Preparation, Hurdles, Injury, War, and Detention in the Build-Up for the Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980 Olympics

July 14, 2013

Canada would host the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal in Quebec from July 17th to August 1st. John Akii-Bua of Uganda, who had won a gold medal in the 400 meters-hurdles and simultaneously established a world record (47.82), started building himself up in late 1975 to defend his Olympic title. The preparation intensified in 1976.

At an international meet in Berlin, on August 22nd 1975, Akii Bua won in the 400 meters-hurdles in 49.2. Significantly, here Guy Drut of France lowered the world-record of the 110 meters hurdles, previously held by American Rodney Milburn, to 13.0.

On June 6th 1976 in Dortmund at a meet, Akii-Bua established the world leading time in the intermediate hurdles by winning in 48.58. Frenchman Guy Drut won in the 110 meters-hurdles in 13.59.

Akii-Bua on June 8th 1976 became the main highlight at a German international meet held in Dusseldorf in Germany when he won in both the 400-flat and the  400 meters-hurdles. The competition, though overwhelmingly of German nationals, was importantly regarded as an Olympics-1976 Games’ qualifier. Akii-Bua’s 400mh win in 48.58 was his personal best for the year. Though excellent and a world-leading time then, it would be reduced to  5th best for the year behind the finishing times of Edwin Corley Moses (USA), Quentin Wheeler and Tom Andrews (USA, 48.55), and Jim Bolding  (USA, 48.57). The sub-49-second finishes had become more common, and they dramatized the increasing competition in the intermediate hurdles!

Akii-Bua’s win in the 400 meters-flat final at the Dusseldorf meet was in a personal best time of 45.82. It was close to Amos Omolo’s Uganda record of 45.33 established at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City, in a quarter-final heat in which he won. This heat included legendary Lee Edward Evans who would eventually win the gold and simultaneously establish the first sub-44 world record. It would endure for nearly a quarter of a century.

Akii in Dusseldorf beat upcoming Olympic relay bronze-medalist German Franz-Peter Hofmeister (46.39), and  European record-holder and Olympic finalist Karl Honz (West Germany) who faded into third place. This performance, happening only a couple of months before Montreal 1976, was Akii’s most profound pre-Olympic display of evidence that he was very much in contention for  another Olympic medal. Akii trained in the city Dortmund in Germany as preparation for  the Olympic Games.

Akii, now aged 26 was expected to ably defend his Olympic title, especially given his commendable build-up for the Olympics in Montreal that included the excellent performances at the two track meets in Europe. Near the end of June while in Helsinki, Akii-Bua was injured and was prescribed a two-week non-training rest by doctors there. They told him that he could still make it to Olympic competition if he was patient.The Olympics were merely weeks away! In the middle of July 1976, regarding his pulled left hamstring muscle, Akii-Bua would declare in the Olympic village in Montreal (Associated Press: 1976: 34):

“I cannot snap my foot down off the hurdle at all. The muscle is very sore. I cannot run, Dwight.”

Dwight Stones, the high-jump world record holder, then recommended treatment by California chiropractor Dr. Leroy Perry who was renowned for treating a sizeable number of world-class athletes; and was in Montreal as part of the medical staff attending to Antigua’s team which was here to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Legendary American high-jumper and Akii’s friend Dwight Stones would comment on Akii-Bua’s prospects of winning at the Games in Montreal (Berger 1976):

“I am not too sure [that Akii-Bua will win] because Akii has been hurt. If he can’t run up to his best, then I’d pick [Edwin] Moses.”

Edwin Moses, running in “tight” lane 2 had in Eugene in Oregon established an American record of 48.30 at the USA Olympic trials on June 21st; although running as an intermediate hurdler was relatively new to him. Moses had raced in the 400mh for only three months, but the 48.30 was then the third fastest time in history–after respectively the Munich and Mexico City Olympic winning performances of Akii-Bua in 1972 (47.82) and the Briton David Hemery in 1968 (48.1).

“Sports Illustrated,” in mid-July 1976 predicted, as was the case in 1972, that Ugandan Akii-Bua would again claim gold. It was predicted that this time Edwin Moses would be second, and that Quinten Wheeler also of USA would be third. But the editors also added that the injury placed a question mark on Akii.

On July 18th 1976, the 50 year-old English Queen Elizabeth opened the Games in
Montreal. But alas, many African nations including Uganda boycotted the Games. Their effort to have New Zealand expelled from the Games by the International Olympic  Committee (IOC) was not honored. Lord Killanin the IOC president argued, among other things, that although the New Zealand rugby team was touring apartheid South Africa, rugby was not an Olympic sport; hence the African boycott was not justified. Other notable African athletes like Mike Boit of Kenya and Miruts Yifter, would therefore not compete.

In Montreal on July 25th in the finals of the intermediate hurdles, 20 year-old Edwin Moses, running in favored lane 4, established a new Olympic and world record (47.63). This was the first time for Moses to compete at international level. In a span of 10 years, Moses would claim many victories, including winning an additional Olympic gold medal, winning 122 races consecutively, and breaking the world record four times. Moses established himself as the world’s greatest hurdler.

From 1976, under Uganda’s dictatorial military president Idi Amin, Akii-Bua felt imprisoned in his native country. He was restricted from competing abroad, and when allowed to get out of the country, his wife and children were barred from going along with him. This was to ensure that he would return to tumultuous Uganda.

He recounts: “I think he [Idi Amin] wanted to put me in jail several times, but I guess he didn’t do it because I was too prominent a person. …Since 1975 I had been trying to get out with my family, but there was no way for us to leave together” (Gelband 1979).

The confusion that would evolve as the Tanzanian and Ugandan liberators (many of who were of Akii-Bua’s Langi ethnic group) approached the capital Kampala gave Akii the risky opportunity to whisk his family out of Uganda into neighboring Kenya. Milton Obote, the president deposed in Amin’s coup d’etat of 1971 was of the same Langi group that became overly earmarked and harassed by Amin’s militia and secret service. In the chaotic confusion toward the toppling of Amin, Akii still managed to arrange for his immediate family to be transported east to Tororo which is near the border with Kenya, as he planned to join them later on March 30th.

Akii-Bua was readily recognizable, so it would not be easy for him to escape Uganda. From Kampala he drove out eastwards, dressed in his police uniform as he would routinely do, so as not to arouse suspicion of attempting to flee. About thirty Uganda army soldiers jumped out of the bushes and some demanded that he drive them to Jinja which is 50 miles east of Kampala. He knew that would end up with him being killed or at best foiling his escape plan. The soldiers let Akii-Bua slide by after he lied to them that he was on duty in the police operations and entrusted to repairing a malfunctioning VHF receiver. To look the more believable, Akii turned around to show his heading back to the capital.

The next day, Akii, accompanied by an uncle and in the company of a west German diplomatic convoy attempted to flee again. While on their way, they saw three carloads of State Research Bureau (Amin’s plain clothes security and terror squad) men. The two relatives jumped into their Peugeot, they were pursued by the SRB squad but managed to get away. The two knew they would easily be apprehended if they fled via the main Uganda eastern town Tororo, so they went to where Akii’s wife was sheltered and hid there for three days. The wife Joyce then walked for six miles through the bushes from the border town Malaba and crossed the Kenya border at Amungurha. Akii was able to drive for three miles through the bushes to the Kenya border town Busia, bribing villagers to show him the way (Gelband: 1979).

Akii-Bua, together with other Ugandans many of whom had been Amin’s aides were detained in Busia for a month. Had he stayed home, he likely would have been killed in the heightened bloodbath that followed the defeating of Amin’s forces in March 1979. After being released at Busia, Akii sent his family off to west Germany; and briefly visited Kampala to check on his house and relatives. His house had been looted, and that included his Olympic gold medal.

Akii’s significant achievement in 1978 was the silver medal at the Africa Games in Algiers. His competing had significantly waned. Akii-Bua did not compete at the Commonwealth Games of 1978 (Edmonton) in which Uganda did not participate, nor had he competed in the previous ones of 1974 (Christchurch).

The massive death, destruction, and malfunctioning during and after the toppling of Idi Amin would not allow for Akii to adequately train in Uganda in preparation for the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow. Now aged 30 and significantly slower, Akii moved to Germany to train and was still determined to win another Olympic medal. He would attempt a last stint at the heavily boycotted Olympics in Moscow.

At the Moscow Olympics, John Akii-Bua’s performance was mediocre and he did qualify beyond the semi-finals in the 400mh. The Uganda 4x 400m relay team that Akii was part of did not fare well, either: the team was eliminated in the first round. Akii-Bua’s namesake John Mugabi won Uganda a welterweight boxing silver medal, the only medal won for the nation at the venue. Many countries, including the USA and Kenya, had boycotted the Olympics as they protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Gold Medalist Injured: Akii-Bua May Miss Olympics,” in “Observer Reporter” (July 15, 1976).

Berger, Dan. “Track Team To Win Only 5 Golds–Stones,” in “Sarasota Journal” (July 14, 1976).

Gelband, Myra. “Scoreboard,” in “SI Vault”  (July 2, 1979).

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Progress, Disappointment, War, Injuries, and Detention in the Hurdles to the Olympics 1976 and Olympics 1980 in Montreal and Moscow

July 14, 2013

Canada would host the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal in Quebec from July 17th to August 1st. John Akii-Bua of Uganda, who had won a gold medal in the 400 meters-hurdles and simultaneously established a world record (47.82), started building himself up in late 1975 to defend his Olympic title. The preparation intensified in 1976.

At an international meet in Berlin, on August 22nd 1975, Akii Bua won in the 400 meters-hurdles in 49.2. Significantly, here Guy Drut of France lowered the world-record of the 110 meters hurdles, previously held by American Rodney Milburn, to 13.0.

On June 6th 1976 in Dortmund at a meet, Akii-Bua established the world leading time in the intermediate hurdles by winning in 48.58. Frenchman Guy Drut won in the 110 meters-hurdles in 13.59.

Akii-Bua on June 8th 1976 became the main highlight at a German international meet held in Dusseldorf in Germany when he won in both the 400-flat and the  400 meters-hurdles. The competition, though overwhelmingly of German nationals, was importantly regarded as an Olympics-1976 Games’ qualifier. Akii-Bua’s 400mh win in 48.58 was his personal best for the year. Though excellent and a world-leading time then, it would be reduced to  5th best for the year behind the finishing times of Edwin Corley Moses (USA), Quentin Wheeler and Tom Andrews (USA, 48.55), and Jim Bolding  (USA, 48.57). The sub-49-second finishes had become more common, and they dramatized the increasing competition in the intermediate hurdles!

Akii-Bua’s win in the 400 meters-flat final at the Dusseldorf meet was in a personal best time of 45.82. It was close to Amos Omolo’s Uganda record of 45.33 established at the Olympics of 1968 in Mexico City, in a quarter-final heat in which he won. This heat included legendary Lee Edward Evans who would eventually win the gold and simultaneously establish the first sub-44 world record. It would endure for nearly a quarter of a century.

Akii in Dusseldorf beat upcoming Olympic relay bronze-medalist German Franz-Peter Hofmeister (46.39), and  European record-holder and Olympic finalist Karl Honz (West Germany) who faded into third place. This performance, happening only a couple of months before Montreal 1976, was Akii’s most profound pre-Olympic display of evidence that he was very much in contention for  another Olympic medal. Akii trained in the city Dortmund in Germany as preparation for  the Olympic Games.

Akii, now aged 26 was expected to ably defend his Olympic title, especially given his commendable build-up for the Olympics in Montreal that included the excellent performances at the two track meets in Europe. Near the end of June while in Helsinki, Akii-Bua was injured and was prescribed a two-week non-training rest by doctors there. They told him that he could still make it to Olympic competition if he was patient.The Olympics were merely weeks away! In the middle of July 1976, regarding his pulled left hamstring muscle, Akii-Bua would declare in the Olympic village in Montreal (Associated Press: 1976: 34):

“I cannot snap my foot down off the hurdle at all. The muscle is very sore. I cannot run, Dwight.”

Dwight Stones, the high-jump world record holder, then recommended treatment by California chiropractor Dr. Leroy Perry who was renowned for treating a sizeable number of world-class athletes; and was in Montreal as part of the medical staff attending to Antigua’s team which was here to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Legendary American high-jumper and Akii’s friend Dwight Stones would comment on Akii-Bua’s prospects of winning at the Games in Montreal (Berger 1976):

“I am not too sure [that Akii-Bua will win] because Akii has been hurt. If he can’t run up to his best, then I’d pick [Edwin] Moses.”

Edwin Moses, running in “tight” lane 2 had in Eugene in Oregon established an American record of 48.30 at the USA Olympic trials on June 21st; although running as an intermediate hurdler was relatively new to him. Moses had raced in the 400mh for only three months, but the 48.30 was then the third fastest time in history–after respectively the Munich and Mexico City Olympic winning performances of Akii-Bua in 1972 (47.82) and the Briton David Hemery in 1968 (48.1).

“Sports Illustrated,” in mid-July 1976 predicted, as was the case in 1972, that Ugandan Akii-Bua would again claim gold. It was predicted that this time Edwin Moses would be second, and that Quinten Wheeler also of USA would be third. But the editors also added that the injury placed a question mark on Akii.

On July 18th 1976, the 50 year-old English Queen Elizabeth opened the Games in
Montreal. But alas, many African nations including Uganda boycotted the Games. Their effort to have New Zealand expelled from the Games by the International Olympic  Committee (IOC) was not honored. Lord Killanin the IOC president argued, among other things, that although the New Zealand rugby team was touring apartheid South Africa, rugby was not an Olympic sport; hence the African boycott was not justified. Other notable African athletes like Mike Boit of Kenya and Miruts Yifter, would therefore not compete.

In Montreal on July 25th in the finals of the intermediate hurdles, 20 year-old Edwin Moses, running in favored lane 4, established a new Olympic and world record (47.63). This was the first time for Moses to compete at international level. In a span of 10 years, Moses would claim many victories, including winning an additional Olympic gold medal, winning 122 races consecutively, and breaking the world record four times. Moses established himself as the world’s greatest hurdler.

From 1976, under Uganda’s dictatorial military president Idi Amin, Akii-Bua felt imprisoned in his native country. He was restricted from competing abroad, and when allowed to get out of the country, his wife and children were barred from going along with him. This was to ensure that he would return to tumultuous Uganda.

He recounts: “I think he [Idi Amin] wanted to put me in jail several times, but I guess he didn’t do it because I was too prominent a person. …Since 1975 I had been trying to get out with my family, but there was no way for us to leave together” (Gelband 1979).

The confusion that would evolve as the Tanzanian and Ugandan liberators (many of who were of Akii-Bua’s Langi ethnic group) approached the capital Kampala gave Akii the risky opportunity to whisk his family out of Uganda into neighboring Kenya. Milton Obote, the president deposed in Amin’s coup d’etat of 1971 was of the same Langi group that became overly earmarked and harassed by Amin’s militia and secret service. In the chaotic confusion toward the toppling of Amin, Akii still managed to arrange for his immediate family to be transported east to Tororo which is near the border with Kenya, as he planned to join them later on March 30th.

Akii-Bua was readily recognizable, so it would not be easy for him to escape Uganda. From Kampala he drove out eastwards, dressed in his police uniform as he would routinely do, so as not to arouse suspicion of attempting to flee. About thirty Uganda army soldiers jumped out of the bushes and some demanded that he drive them to Jinja which is 50 miles east of Kampala. He knew that would end up with him being killed or at best foiling his escape plan. The soldiers let Akii-Bua slide by after he lied to them that he was on duty in the police operations and entrusted to repairing a malfunctioning VHF receiver. To look the more believable, Akii turned around to show his heading back to the capital.

The next day, Akii, accompanied by an uncle and in the company of a west German diplomatic convoy attempted to flee again. While on their way, they saw three carloads of State Research Bureau (Amin’s plain clothes security and terror squad) men. The two relatives jumped into their Peugeot, they were pursued by the SRB squad but managed to get away. The two knew they would easily be apprehended if they fled via the main Uganda eastern town Tororo, so they went to where Akii’s wife was sheltered and hid there for three days. The wife Joyce then walked for six miles through the bushes from the border town Malaba and crossed the Kenya border at Amungurha. Akii was able to drive for three miles through the bushes to the Kenya border town Busia, bribing villagers to show him the way (Gelband: 1979).

Akii-Bua, together with other Ugandans many of whom had been Amin’s aides were detained in Busia for a month. Had he stayed home, he likely would have been killed in the heightened bloodbath that followed the defeating of Amin’s forces in March 1979. After being released at Busia, Akii sent his family off to west Germany; and briefly visited Kampala to check on his house and relatives. His house had been looted, and that included his Olympic gold medal.

Akii’s significant achievement in 1978 was the silver medal at the Africa Games in Algiers. His competing had significantly waned. Akii-Bua did not compete at the Commonwealth Games of 1978 (Edmonton) in which Uganda did not participate, nor had he competed in the previous ones of 1974 (Christchurch).

The massive death, destruction, and malfunctioning during and after the toppling of Idi Amin would not allow for Akii to adequately train in Uganda in preparation for the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow. Now aged 30 and significantly slower, Akii moved to Germany to train and was still determined to win another Olympic medal. He would attempt a last stint at the heavily boycotted Olympics in Moscow.

At the Moscow Olympics, John Akii-Bua’s performance was mediocre and he did qualify beyond the semi-finals in the 400mh. The Uganda 4x 400m relay team that Akii was part of did not fare well, either: the team was eliminated in the first round. Akii-Bua’s namesake John Mugabi won Uganda a welterweight boxing silver medal, the only medal won for the nation at the venue. Many countries, including the USA and Kenya, had boycotted the Olympics as they protested the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Gold Medalist Injured: Akii-Bua May Miss Olympics,” in “Observer Reporter” (July 15, 1976).

Berger, Dan. “Track Team To Win Only 5 Golds–Stones,” in “Sarasota Journal” (July 14, 1976).

Gelband, Myra. “Scoreboard,” in “SI Vault”  (July 2, 1979).

Marilyn Neufville of Jamaica: World Records, Controversy, and Injuries in the Athletics Career of a Young Woman

June 3, 2013

Introduction

As an elite black Jamaican athlete in the United Kingdom during the tumultuous years of racism and black power movements during the 1960’s and 1970’s, controversy would swirl around slender Marilyn Fay Neufville.

A south London resident who had migrated from Jamaica when she was eight years old, and even competed for Britain internationally, she had “defied British officials and missed a meet against East Germany in order to train with the Jamaican team” (Associated Press: 1970). Neufville had ran for the Cambridge Harriers of southeast London during her teens after she had arrived in Britain in 1961 when she was 8 years old. Four months before the summer Commonwealth Games of 1970, Neufville had represented Britain and won the 400m title for Britain. She was born in Hectors River in Portland (Jamaica) on November 16th 1952. She started as a short-distance sprinter, and it was at the end of 1969, that she started concentrating on the 400m.

1967

Neufville first became significantly recognized at national level when in 1967 she won two Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of England sprint titles in the under-15 group: the 100 and 150 yards (in 17.3 seconds).

1968

Again as a junior, in 1968, she won in the 220 yards in the AAA under-17 group in 23.9 seconds–a new national record in this category. The AAA, reputably the oldest athletics’ national governing body in the world, was established in April 1880. The championships are regarded as the British National Championships, though they have been open to foreign competitors.

1969

As an intermediate (under-17), Neufville won the English Schools Championships title in the 150 yards, improving her personal best to 16.6 seconds in Shrewsbury. She would progress to the women’s AAA championships in 1969 and was just beaten into second place (24.3) by 28 year-old legendary Dorothy Hyman (23.7) in the 200m; Val Peat, the previous champion, won the bronze medal (24.3). Hyman, a multiple medallist at the European Games, Commonwealth Games, and the Olympics is regarded as Britain’s greatest sprinter.

During 1969, 16 year-old Neufville was ranked 27th in the 400m in the world, courtesy of her personal best (54.2) executed in London on October 9th. Earlier, on August 23rd 1969, running for the track team Cambridge Harriers, Neufville ran a 54.4 in the 400m which time still places her among the top ten British youngsters among the under-17 group. In September, Neufville was part of the winning 4x400m relay team that won in the track meet versus West Germany in Hamburg. Also on September 6th 1969, she won the 300m in London, in 38.3 seconds. This time  is still listed as among the best among United Kingdom youngsters under 17 years of age.

1970 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Edinburgh

As a British runner, Marilyn’s personal outdoor best in the 400m would become 52.6 achieved when she won the The Internationales Stadionfest (ISTAF) 400m title in 1970. Here, in Berlin, she smashed the British record. The silver and bronze medallists were West Germans Christel Frese (54.3) and Inge Eckhoff (54.5). Neufville’s personal best indoors was her 53.01 world record breaking and winning performance that is mentioned below.

At the 1970 European Athletics Indoor Championships held in Vienna (March 14th to 15th), Neufville, representing Great Britain, won impressively in the 400m (53.01). This, established on March 14th, was a new indoor world record; a timing more than a second below her previous personal best (54.2). The silver medallist was Christel Frese of West Germany (53.1), followed by the previous (1968) Olympic gold medallist Colette Besson of France (53.6). The indoor record would be reduced by Nadezhda Ilyina (Nadezhda Kolesnikova-Ilyina) of the Soviet Union, in 1974.

On May 17th 1970, Neufville participated in the Britain vs. Netherlands Women’s meet in Sparta Stadium. In the 200 meters W. Van den Berg of the Netherlands won (23.7), Neufville was second (23.8), and M. Cobb also of Britain was third (24.1). As for the 4x400m relay, Marilyn ran the last leg flawlessly with ease, and the British (3:45.1) beat Netherlands (3:50.8).

Also early in 1970, Neufville won the 400m title in the British AAA indoor championships in 54.9 seconds, establishing a new national record. Jannette Champion (56.5) was second, and Avril Beattie (57.1) won the bronze medal. Neufville would participate in the same championships during the next year 1971, but this time representing Jamaica. This time the winner was Champion (now Jannette Roscoe) in 56.1, Marilyn was second (57.3), and Maureen Tranter of Britain (57.5) was third.

Still in 1970, Marilyn Fay was a notable fixture at the South of England Championships that were held in London.  Here, she won the 200m and 400m in 23.9 and 52.0 seconds, respectively–both new records in the annual event. She would return to the Championships the next year 1971 as a Jamaican, and would retain the 200m title, winning in 24.2 again in London.

On July 23rd at the Commonwealth Games, the 17 year-old long-legged and slim Neufville established a new 400m world record of 51.02, and then the next day at a press conference refused to comment on the accomplishment in which she had just lowered the record, that had been jointly held by the French women Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos (set in Athens in 1969), by a massive seven-tenths of a second. The 51.02 would endure as Neufville’s personal best. Neufville had won by a full twenty seconds ahead of the runner-up Sandra Brown of Australia (53.66), in a time one second faster than she had ever ran in the event!  The performance was the day’s highlight at the Commonwealth Games. Judith Ayaa of Uganda was third (53.77).

On July 24th, “at a bizarre news conference,” Neufville, “…sat with her Jamaican team manager, Norman Hill…and just silently shook her head at every question” (Associated Press: 1970). In the extraordinary scene, Hill had brought her into the room that was lined with forty newsmen and ushered her into the reserved seat of honor, and then declared that she was not going to answer to any questions and comments. As for her silent passive response, the manager Hill explained that Neufville was warily tense about uttering anything that would possibly jeopardize her future in athletics. Indeed she had ran for Jamaica, though she had formerly ran for Britain to which she was tied under the international rules of athletics.

Would Neufville be in trouble with the British Amateur Athletic Association for which she had competed in world events? She had been allowed by the Association to tour Europe with the Jamaican team, as long as she would return and be part of Britain’s team to be pitted against East Germany. Neufville defiantly stayed with Jamaicans, she did not show up for the European track meet executed two weeks earlier. Hill was even evasive in replying about whether Marilyn Fay, in maintaining silence, was protesting British officials’ attitude. Marilyn would later compete in the 4x100m relay: the Jamaican team finished fifth.

Though the Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh, right in the United Kingdom, “Neufville was not jeered or beaten, though her preference for representing Jamaica while she was a resident in London angered many, especially as many [blacks] sought…British [sports] titles but were prevented from doing so by a rule that specified that a…contestant ‘has been resident in the United Kingdom for a period of not less than ten years'” (Cashmore 2010: 242).

It would take two years for Marilyn’s world record to be equaled–Monica Zehrt of GDR on July 4th 1972 in Paris. It would be nearly exactly four years later (July 22nd 1974 in Warsaw) that superwoman Irena Szewinska of Poland broke Neufville’s world record, down by more than a second (49.9) and the first ever below 50 seconds.

Near the end of July 1970, about a month after her Commonwealth triumph in Edinburgh, British track officials convinced that she was bent on competing for Jamaica, declared that they would not include Neufville on the British team that would soon participate in the European Cup competition. They would not object to Neufville’s defection to Jamaica, but would defer the matter to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) for approval. Neufville even nursed the option of studying at an American college. After he Commonwealth performance, there was jubilation in Jamaica, she was officially congratulated by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer and also accorded a civic reception in her home parish Portland on the north coast of Jamaica. Neufville left Jamaica for London in late August, only days before her athletics’ national affiliation and situation would be decided by the International Amateur Athletic Commission in Stockholm. It would be decided that international athletes could henceforth be able to switch from one country after one year after competing, instead of every three years.

1971

In Toronto, on February 5th 1971, Neufville won in the 300 yards (35.7).

At the 1971 Central American and Caribbean Championships held during mid-July in Kingston, Marilyn Fay won in the 400m and established a course record (53.5). She was followed by Carmen Trustee of Cuba (54.0) and the bronze was captured by Yvonne Saunders of Jamaica (54.3). Neufville was also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that won the silver medal (3:41.0), behind gold medallists Cuba (3:38.6, a new course record), and ahead of bronze medallists Trinidad and Tobago (4:03.2).

Only weeks later, on August 3rd, Neufville won a gold medal at the 1971 sixth Pan-African Games (held from late July to early August in Cali in Colombia) in the 400m–the first time the event was contested at these Games. Her winning time was 52.34 (51.34?), and the team-mate Yvonne Saunders was third (53.13). The two were also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that also included Ruth Williams and Beverly Franklin and won the bronze medal (3:34.05). Jamaica was beaten by the United States (3:32.45) and silver medallists Cuba (3:34.04). Fay’s 400m performance in Cali was her personal best of 1971, and the second best in world annual ranking. Here in Cali, Carmen Trustee of Cuba finished second (52.8).

Neufville left Britain for Jamaica in July 1971, amidst the storm of controversy in which she claimed she had been mistreated and that she would therefore continue to run for Jamaica. She denied that she was leaving London because of racial prejudice. It was argued that under IAAF rules, Marilyn Fay would be eligible to compete for Jamaica in the forthcoming Olympics, but that she would not be eligible to under the International Olympics Committee (IOC) rules.

From September 1971, she lived near Los Angeles with multi-world record-holder Chi Cheng (Chi Cheng Reel) of Taiwan and her husband and coach Vince Reel who also coached Neufville and was the coach at Claremont College.

1972 and the Olympics in Munich

The ninth annual Albuquerque Jaycees Invitational track meet was held in the middle of July 1972. Here Carol Hudson, a native of Albuquerque, ably beat Marilyn Fay and also Karin Lundgren of Sweden in 600 yard run. Hudson’s performance was new American record (1:21.8)

On January 24th 1972, Neufville competed in an indoor track meet in Los Angeles, in the 600 yards. Unfortunately, she fell near the end of the race. She was visibly in great as she was helped up. With a severed tendon, she became scheduled to undergo an operation at Glendale Community Hospital. The officials were pessimistic about her chances at recovering quickly enough to compete in the forthcoming summer Olympics in Munich. The track doctor Jerome Bornstein said that it would depend on how significant the tear was. He said that if the tendon was badly severed, it would incapacitate Neufville for at least six months–a condition that would spoil her regimen of adequately building up for the Olympics.

She was helped to foot her medical bill: “World record holder Marilyn Neufville became the first claimant to receive payment for expenses caused by athletic injury under the AAU’s optional athlete’s insurance program, which went into effect January 1. …a total of $1000 has been sent to Ms. Neufville and Glendale Community Hospital….” (Amateur Athletic Union of the United States 1972: 9).

It became doubtful that Neufville would participate in the Wills-Qantas Olympic fund-raising meetings that were scheduled for mid-March in Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne. She was to have been a feature attraction at the meets.

In the middle of July 1972, Neufville was listed in the 27-member track and field team that would represent Jamaica at the Olympics. There were still hopes that she would recover from the snapped Achilles tendon that had disabled her from competing since the fall in January. In the second week of August, it was declared that Marilyn Faye had not sufficiently recovered and so would not compete at the Olympics.

Monica Zehrt of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had equaled the world record held by Neufville. The latter was injured and unable to compete at the Olympics in Munich in 1972, but 19 year-old Zehrt, “[seemingly] unaffected by the pressure of her opponents or by her role as favorite” (Wallechinsky 2000: 206), went on to win the gold in the event, setting a new Olympic record (51.08).

1973

In the middle of January 1973, in Winnipeg, 18 year-old Joanne McTaggert of Canada won in the 300m (40.2) in the first time she had competed in the distance. She beat the big names Yvonne Saunders, Kathy Hammond, and Neufville.

At the Sunkist International Invitational Indoor Track Meet in Los Angeles, Neufville and Chi Cheng Reel, running for the Los Angeles Track Club, were part of the sprint relay that won in 1:14.3.

At the end of January 1973 Neufville, again representing the Los Angeles Track Club in the Albuquerque Invitational Track and Field meet, won the 300 yard dash in 35.4 seconds.

On February 23rd 1973, the USA Indoor National Championships were held in Madison Square Garden in New York. Neufville, representing the Los Angeles Track Club, finished third in the 440 yards (56.2), behind Brenda Walsh of Canada (55.5), and Kathy Hammond of the Sacramento Road Runners (55.7).

In the first week of June, Neufville set a Kennedy Games record of 55.1, in winning.

Near the end of June 1973, at the Women’s AAU meet held in Irvine in California, Neufville was beaten into second place in the 440 yards. She was second (54.5) and the winner was Olympian Mable Fergerson (54.1).

The Pacific International Games were held early in July 1973. in Victoria in Canada. The winner in the 400m was Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.4). Neufville disappointingly finished sixth.

On July 19th 1973, Neufville together with the other Jamaican world record hold Donald Quarrie were included on the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association’s team scheduled to participate in the Central American and Caribbean Athletic Championships to be held during July 26th to 29th in Maracaibo in Venezuela. Injuries prevented Neufville from competing.

1974 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Christchurch

Marilyn Fay at 21, would travel to Christchurch in New Zealand to represent Jamaica at the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in 1974. The injuries plagued her and she would only afford a sixth place finishing in the 400m (54.04). The gold medallist was her former team-mate Yvonne Saunders (51.67) who had become a naturalized Canadian, followed by Verona Bernard (51.94), and bronze medallist Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.08).

1975

As a University of California at Berkeley student, Neufville finished fourth in the 800 yards, in the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Outdoor Championships.

1976 and the Olympics in Montreal

On July 25th 1976, 23 year-old Neufville competed for Jamaica in the 400m at the Olympics in Montreal. Here, in the third of the six heats of the first round and running in lane 3, she finished fourth (52.93) behind Ellen Strophal-Streidt of East Germany (52.56), Christiane Casapicola-Wildschek of Austria (52.65). and Judy Canty of Australia (52.88). Though Marilyn Fay qualified for the next round (quarter-finals) to take place in the evening, this would be the first and end of her Olympic presence as injuries discouraged her from competing any further.  Still, the 52.93 was her personal best for 1976. This timing is the fourth personal best all-time performance among the 400m University of California at Berkeley (California Bears) women track stars. The time is also the oldest only 1970’s PB timing that is among the top ten best in the quarter-mile sprint. The best California Bears’ PB’s were established by Latasha Gilliam (52.53, 1996), Alima Kamara (52.75, 2010), and Marian Franklin (52.90, 1980).

As a student competing for UCB, Neufville’s collegiate personal best was 54.08, also established in 1976. This timing is listed seventh among UCB performances, behind Latasha Gilliam, Marian Franklin, Kim White, Chantal Reynolds, Connie Culbert, and Kelia Bolton. Marilyn attended the University of California at Berkeley between 1972 and 1983.

In Montreal in the Olympic finals of the 400m, 30 year-old Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein of Poland, also an outstanding short-sprinter and long jumper as well as multiple Olympic gold medallist, established a world record (49.28), ten meters ahead of runner-up 18 year-old Christina Brehmer of East Germany (50.51), and 23 year-old Ellen Strophal-Streidt also of GDR (50.55). In 1974, Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein had become the first woman to officially run the distance in less than 50 seconds.

The Aftermath

Marilyn Neufville has for many years been employed as a social worker both in the United States and the United Kingdom. She has worked at Local Authority Social Services in London, in a mental health care division. In March 2013, 60 year-old Neufville filled a claim over unfair dismissal in 2010 by the Richmond Council in London (Bishop: 2013). Accused of mishandling a case that involved domestic violence, she had been fired.

In the United States, Neufville lived and worked in and around Haviland and Halstead in Kansas, Martinsville in Virginia, and in Ballwin and St. Charles in Missouri. She lived in Oakland while attending UC at Berkeley. She was also affiliated with Tilastopaja Oy Athletics, St. Columbas School in Kilmacolm (Scotland), and the South England Athletic Association. After he win at the Commonwealth Games, national stamps with her image were issued.

Jamaica women’s 400m record, established by Lorraine Fenton on July 19th 2002 in Monaco, is now 49.30. Neufville is still the only Jamaican woman to have ever held a world record in outdoor athletics. From 1978 to 1982, Marita Koch of East Germany lowered the 400m world record six times, from 49.19 to 48.16 in Europe. Her dominance was interrupted by Jarmila Kratochvílová of Czechoslovakia who in August 1983, lowered it to 47.99 in Helsinki. At 1:53.28, Jarmila Kratochvílová still holds the 800m world record that was also established in 1983. The 400m world record (47.60) was re-established by Marita Koch in October 1985 in Canberra.

Neufville was officially listed as 5’5″ and 125 pounds. She did not have the commonly significant build of a sprinter, and her thinness made her prone to injuries. As a result she was unable to perform at many international competitions and her performance deteriorated. But she was perhaps Britain’s first elite black athlete.

Works Cited

Associated Press: “‘M’ Student Takes First,” (July 24, 1970) in “Michigan Daily.” 

Amateur Athletic Union of the United States: AAU News Volumes 43-46, 1972.

Bishop, Rachel. “Social worker claims unfair dismissal from Richmond Council,” (March 1, 2013) in “Richmond & Twickenham Times.”

Cashmore, Ellis. Making Sense of Sports. London: Routledge, 2010.

Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Olympics. London: Aurum Press, 2000.

Jonathan Musere

The 1970 Uganda vs. Soviet Union Boxing Dual in Kampala

July 20, 2011

On December 12th 1970, an international dual boxing match between the Soviet Union and Uganda, was held in Kampala. Uganda had become an established boxing powerhouse by notably emerging as the leading Commonwealth of Nations’ boxing nation. The Commonwealth Games had been held in July. Uganda’s boxing gold medal wins were courtesy of James Odwori, Mohamed Muruli, and Benson Masanda and the others were silver medals won by Deogratias Musoke and 1968 Olympic bronze medallist Leo Rwabwogo.

The population of the Soviet Union in 1970 was approximately 240 million and Soviet amateur boxers were rated as among the best in the world. The dual boxing match-up was intriguing given Uganda’s recent boxing victory at the Commonwealth Games; and the growing tradition of boxing in the two nations. The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was a superpower, while third world country Uganda had a scanty population of approximately 10 million.

The first bout was that of light-flyweight James Odwori who had recently won the Commonwealth Games’ title, against Russian Anatoli Semenov. Odwori is rated as one of the most skillful and most exciting of Uganda’s boxers. He won many medals and would represent Uganda at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich where he was placed 5th. This time at the Kampala tournament, Semenov was awarded the victory by points. Semenov had represented the Soviet Union at the European Amateur Boxing Championships held in Bucharest in 1969, but had been beaten by points by Roman Rozek of Poland.

Uganda’s flyweight contender Leo Rwabwogo had won a Commonwealth Games silver medal in July, and he had won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico City. He would also win a silver medal at the forthcoming Olympics in Munich. His haul of prestigious international medals is impressive, and he was one of the best of Uganda’s boxers during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. At this tournament in Kampala, sturdy and strong Rwabwogo disposed of P. Ershov of the Soviet Union by a knockout in the first round. Ershov had participated in an International friendly, the Leningrad Tournament , in November 1969. He was beaten by points, by fellow Soviet Yuriy Fedorov, in the quarter-finals’ round.

Uganda’s bantamweight Eridadi Mukwanga became Uganda’s first Olympic silver medallist during the venue Mexico City in 1968. Unfortunately, Mukwanga was beaten by points in the very first preliminary round at the recent Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. This time in Kampala, Mukwanga was again disappointing. He lost to Nikolay Novikov of the Soviet Union, by points. Novikov was placed 5th at the Olympics in Mexico City as a flyweight. Other merits include a silver medal at the European Boxing Championships in 1969, and the Merited Master of Sports of the USSR award.

Soviet featherweight Valerian Sergeyevich Sokolov was set to challenge Uganda’s Deogratias Musoke. Interestingly it is Sokolov who, as a bantamweight, had won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics by knocking out previously mentioned Eridadi Mukwanga in the second round. In this Kampala tournament, Sokolov again established himself as a knockout artist by stopping Musoke in the first round. At the Commonwealth Games in July, Musoke had settled for the featherweight silver medal after being outpointed in the final by Kenyan boxing legend Philip Waruinge. At the summer Olympics in 1972, Waruinge would be awarded the silver and the gold to Boris Kuznetsov of the Soviet Union by points. Waruinge felt that he had been robbed. In the same Olympic featherweight bouts, Deogratias Musoke was disappointedly placed 17th after becoming defeated in the second round. The featherweight boxing competitors numbered forty-five. As for Valerian Sokolov, he is credited for winning 196 boxing fights out of the 216 amateur bouts in which he contested. In 1968 Sokolov was bestowed on the Honored Master of Sports of the USSR and the Order of the Badge of Honor in 1969. Fighting as a featherweight, Sokolov was placed 5th at the European Boxing Championships in June 1971.

Boris Georgievich Kuznetsov, who would in 1972 win the featherweight Olympic gold, was here in Kampala scheduled to fight Ugandan Peter Odhiambo. This would be a lightweight bout. Odhiambo impressively outpointed Kuznetsov, avenging Uganda’s previous two losses. Odhiambo would move on to win the lightweight gold medal at the African Amateur Boxing Championships of June 1972, in Nairobi. Boris Kuznetsov is regarded as one of the best and famous Soviet fighters. In February 1972, in a friendly with the USA, Kuznetsov won in his bout by stopping Robert Vascocu in the second round. In 1974, at the inaugural World Amateur Boxing Championships in Havana, Kuznetsov won a silver medal. Kuznetsov was awarded both the Honored Master of Sports of the USSR and the Order of the Badge of Honor in 1972.

Mohamed Muruli of Uganda won the light-welterweight gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in June. In this Kampala tournament, in the same weight class, he would be pitted against Alexander Zaytsev of the Soviet Union. In the second round Muruli was disqualified. Nevertheless, Muruli remains one of Uganda’s most renowned amateur boxers. In 1974 in Christchurch, Muruli won Uganda another gold medal. His record as the only Ugandan to have ever win more than one Commonwealth Games’ boxing gold medal, remains intact.

Tall 22 year-old welterweight Andrew Kajjo had represented Uganda at the Olympic Games of 1968 and the recent Commonwealth Games, but did not win any medals in either games. This time in Kampala, Kajjo ably technically knocked out Soviet welterweight Alexander Ovechkin in the second round. Uganda’s hopes of becoming the overall winner, were raised.

In the light-middleweight bout, Uganda’s Abdalla beat the Soviet Vladmir Yakshilov, by points–making it the first time in the tournament that Uganda registered two consecutive wins. Vladmir Yakshilov represented the Soviet Union at the Leningrad Tournament in November 1969. At this international invitational, Yakshilov was eliminated in the semi-finals. In December 1969 in Kiev, Yakshilov participated in the Soviet Team Championships. He won in the Russia vs. Belarus dual and. the Russia vs. Kazakhstan dual. He lost in the Russia vs. Ukraine bouts.

Matthias Ouma was among Uganda’s prominent fighters during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. In 1965 he won a silver medal at the 1965 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, a bronze medal at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, a gold medal win at the 1968 Africa Boxing Championships in Lusaka, and later a silver medal at the 1972 All-Africa Boxing Championships held in Nairobi, a silver at the 1973 All-Africa Games in Lagos. Ouma represented Uganda at both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, but did not here win any medals. In this 1970 tournament in Kampala, Ouma as a light-heavyweight, was beaten by a points margin by Yuri Nesterov. Nevertheless, Ouma is still ranked high as one of the best of Uganda’s middle- and light-heavyweight boxers. Yuri Nesterov was a dreaded Soviet boxer, and is perhaps most remembered for being beaten by American Duane Bobick during the dual of February 1972, and beaten by the same Bobick in the boxing preliminaries in September 1972 in Munich. In another dual in January 1973, heavyweight Nesterov was knocked out American Nick Wells.

Ugandan heavyweight Benson Masanda, had easily won the Commonwealth boxing crown amidst a limited number of heavyweight boxers at the Games. This time in December in Kampala, Soviet Vladimir Chernyshev out-powered Masanda, technically knocking him out in the second round. Masanda still maintains his record as having been one of the most prominent of Ugandan boxing heavyweights. Others of his accolades include a gold medal at the 1972 Africa Boxing Championships held in Nairobi, and a bronze medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. In June 1971 in Madrid, Chernyshev won the heavyweight title at the European Amateur Championships. Chernyshev represented the Soviet Union in a dual with USA in February 1972, and was knocked out by Duane Bobick.

Boxers of the former USSR are still considered among the best in the world. In Kampala, the best of Soviet amateur boxers were pitted against Uganda’s best boxers. The result was 6-4 in favor of the Soviet Union. Against such a gigantic superpower and prominent boxing nation, Uganda’s Third World boxers had proved that they were indeed a formidable force in international amateur boxing.

Jonathan Musere

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

May 18, 2011

Introduction
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.

Conclusion
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.

References
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.

http://www.iaaf.org/athletes/biographies/country
http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics
www.topsinathletics.info

Jonathan Musere

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

May 13, 2011

INTRODUCTION

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.

THE YEAR 1972

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.

THE YEAR 1973

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.

THE YEAR 1974

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.

THE YEAR 1975

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.

THE LATER YEARS

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

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

Ayub Kalule: Uganda’s Most Highly Rated Boxing Champion

May 12, 2011

Ayub (Ayubu) Kalule was born on January 6, 1954, in the Buganda region of Uganda. He was born to Juma Balinnya (a former boxer) of Kibuye. Kalule started studying at Kibuli Primary School at which he started boxing early, while only in the fifth grade. Balinnya did encourage his youngsters to be a boxers, although Kalule had never seen him box. Kalule began boxing nationally in 1971, through famed club Kampala City Bombers and through his high school Modern Senior Secondary School. In terms of length of world professional ranking, together with skill and performance, Ayub Kalule has endured as Uganda’s top boxer. Kalule will also, for long, stand out as one of the most revered as well as one of the most debated of African world champions.

Of significance, Ayub Kalule, in 1972, fighting as a light-welterweight, became the under-19 Africa champion. In 1973, Kalule in the semi-finals of the lightweight division, lost and settled for bronze at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos. Thereafter, Ayub Kalule had recently turned 20 when he represented Uganda in what was his first major international test…the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand held in the last two weeks of January 1974. Throughout his career, Kalule was known for his unique right-handedness, in that he who would face his opponents as if he were a southpaw, or face them in what some boxing writers call a “square stance.” This was likely an advantage in his ascent to becoming world champion, insofar as he performed as an ambidextrous boxer who would continuously confuse and barrage his opponents with either hand. Because of his strong, solid, muscular body, Kalule a man of stamina was regarded as an iron man. His opponents would tire from attempting to pound on him and his advancing pressure of relentless arms and speed.

Ayub Kalule boxed as a lightweight at the Commonwealth games, and started in the preliminaries by outpointing 20 year-old William Lyimo of Tanzania. Six years later, by which time boxing professional Kalule had become WBA Junior Middleweight Champion, Lyimo would fight for Tanzania at the Olympic Games held in Moscow. Lyimo at 27 years of age would go past the second round, but would in the quarter-finals be knocked out in the third round by 20-year old Anthony Willis of Great Britain, and thus settle for 5th place in the welterweight division.

At the quarter finals of the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Kalule out-punched and bloodily disfigured the face of 22-year old Irish “Sugar” Ray Heaney who was in the fight given two mandatory counts because of heavy punishment from the fast and hard-punching Ayub Kalule. Heaney would later become a professional, but would fast retire with an undistinguished boxing record. At the quarter finals, Kalule was pitted against 19 year-old New Zealander Robert Charles Colley. Colley would be outpointed (and settle for the bronze), allowing Kalule to move on to the final stage. After being eliminated by Russian Valery Limasov in the first round at the Olympic Games of 1976 held in Montreal (Canada), Colley would turn professional. Though Colley’s professional record is impressive, it is mediocre insofar as his fights were confined to New Zealand and Australia, and Colley retired quite early…in 1980. At the finals of these Commonwealth Games, Kalule would outpoint Kayin Amah of Nigeria and therefore win the gold. Kayin Amah, who had in the preliminaries lost to legendary Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the previous Commonwealth Games (1970), would this time be happier with taking home a silver.

Perhaps Ayub Kalule’s most prestigious amateur encounter, would be the World Amateur Boxing Championships that were held in Havana in Cuba in August 17-30 1974. Kalule starred for Uganda as a light-welterweight. Kalule’s first bout was encouraging, inasmuch as he disposed of Puerto Rican Amador Rosario by points. Next, Kalule similarly outpointed Marti Kalevi Marjamaa of Finland. Tall 5’11” Marjamaa did consecutively represent Finland at the forthcoming Olympics, but was eliminated early in the preliminaries at both the Olympics in Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980). At the quarter-finals of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule defeated Mark Harris of Guyana by points. Mark Harris was scheduled to box for Guyana in the forthcoming Olympics in Montreal, but Guyana became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. Harris thereafter turned professional, but his record was mediocre, including being knocked out during his attempt at the Commonwealth (British) welterweight title. Harris was knocked out by Colin Jones of the United Kingdom. Harris retired from professional boxing near the end of 1982.

In the semi-final of the World Championships, Ayub Kalule was pitted against Ulrich Beyer of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Kalule outclassed the German, and won by points. Notably, in the previous Olympics (Munich, 1972), Beyer was eliminated by Sugar Ray Seales (eventual and only national gold medalist, during these Olympics) of the USA, in the first round. Later in 1978, as professionals, Ayub Kalule would beat Sugar Ray Seales in a 10-round decision. However, Ulrich Beyer would be eliminated by Sugar Ray Leonard of the USA in a memorable fight of the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal in Canada. The finals of these World Amateur Boxing Championships saw Ayub Kalule defeat Vladimir Kolev (silver medalist) of Bulgaria by a clear 5-0. At the forthcoming Olympic Games in Montreal, Uganda was not represented but Vladimir Kolev won a bronze medal.

Ayub Kalule’s next major outing came at the African Boxing Championships that were held in home territory, in Kampala in Uganda in November 1974. Kalule, a recent Commonwealth Games’ and World Amateur Boxing Champion, was expected to win. Kalule was not disappointing, winning the gold in the final against Kenyan Philip Mathenge, in the light-welterweight division, on points. Earlier, at the Commonwealth Games held in late January 1974, Mathenge had commendably won bronze in the light-welterweight division, falling to Anthony Martey of Ghana on points. Martey would go on to be defeated by legendary Obisia Nwakpa of Nigeria, in the finals, by points. Nwakpa is now a Nigeria national boxing coach.

Ayub Kalule moved to Denmark in 1975, under Morgas Parley Promotions. Kalule distinguished himself by winning against Delroy Parkes of England for the European Cup title in the light-welterweight division.

Ayub Kalule, rose quite rapidly in the world ranks, even in spite of his being based in Denmark rather than being situated the more championship-lucrative USA. Though Kalule turned professional in 1976, during 1977 he became the foremost contender for the WBA light-middleweight crown. Peter Heller in his book “Bad Intentions: The Mike Tyson Story” (1995: 142) writes that Ayub Kalule already top junior middleweight contender for the WBA crown, was from 1977 to 1979 denied a shot at the title. Although a champion was required to defend his title at least once every six months, the WBA did almost everything to keep Kalule from fighting the champion who happened to be a mediocre Latin-American fighter named Eddie Garzo. The WBA did not want Garzo to risk losing the title to Kalule. It was long after Garzo had lost the title to Japanese Masashi Kudo, and after considerable pressure was mounted on the WBA, that Kalule was given the chance at the title. Kalule easily defeated Kudo, and thus became Uganda’s first ever professional world boxing champion. But in order to sanction the fight, the Latin-American WBA president had requested that the Japanese promoters furnish his team of officials a long list of amenities in Japan (including luxurious dinning and hotel accommodations and seven round-trip tickets to Tokyo). The WBA has a long history of being presided over by Latin Americans.

Kalule’s fight against Masashi Kudo took place at the City Gymnasium in Akita in Japan, Kalule won the 15 round fight by unanimous decision. The fight took place on October 24, 1979. The win was quite lopsided and the scores in favor of Kalule read as: Referee Robert Ferera 149-139, Judge Harold Lederman 146-139, Judge Tim Kelleher 149-145. At age 28 and at 5’10”, a relatively young and tall Kudo would retire from boxing after this and only loss, ending up with a record of 23 wins, 1 loss, with 50% of the bouts won by knockouts. Kudo had previously, successfully, defended the WBA light middleweight title three times, over the 14 months since he won the title from Eddie Gazo. In addition, Masashi Kudo had held the Japanese middleweight title for several years, so his fame and his only defeat at the hands Kalule has actually made Ayub Kalule’s name quite infinitely endure amongst Asian boxing circles. Kudo is not regarded as a technically efficient boxer. Kudo virtually never threw a hook or uppercut, and he relied solely on jabbing and throwing straight rights. That, to some extent made it easier for Kalule to defeat him. And in retrospect, Kudo had originally been a wrestler, and he turned to boxing after failing to make it on the Japanese wrestling team to the Olympics of Munich in 1972. Maybe Kudo was in professional boxing by default, but was not really that interested in it. Even in the bouts he won, most were won by a few points. Kudo’s power was punctuated by his enormous amounts of stamina and strength, which enabled him to retire without having ever been knocked down.

Ayub Kalule’s defense of the WBA Junior-Middleweight against African-American Olympic gold medalist and superstar Ray Charles Leonard (“Sugar” Ray Leonard), is Kalule’s most internationally acclaimed fight. Undefeated Kalule had won all 36 of his previous professional fights. The fight took place at the Astrodome in Houston in Texas, amidst a capacity crowd, on June 25 1981. In the first and second round of the fight, Leonard was surprisingly the attacker of the solidly built Kalule. Leonard was certainly, faster and more agile of the two, this enabling him to penetrate Kalule as the champion worked to figure Leonard out. Leonard’s compact jab convincingly worked through Kalule’s defenses. The third round was different. It was revealed later that a left hook to Kalule’s head had resulted in the bruising of Leonard’s middle finger, a handicap that became permanent. The injury was cumbersome, but Leonard courageous attacked Kalule in the fourth round, even dazzling him a couple of times. Finishing Kalule off was the hard part, for Leonard seemed to ran into a brick wall each time he tried to finish Kalule off. The tough spirited exchange between Ayub Kalule and “Sugar” Ray Leonard demonstrated just how sturdy and unyielding Kalule was.

Into the fifth round, Kalule registered control, much with his right hand, and in the seventh round registered a right to Leonard’s head, knocking the challenger off-balance. Leonard recovered, but Kalule’s confidence blossomed. Kalule displayed more toughness in the eighth round, Leonard tiring with Kalule gaining the upper hand. Round 9 is interesting. The two boxers looked exhausted but determined, such that the non-stop and no-holding exchange that had continued right from the beginning of the fight showed no signs of abating.

The formidable Kalule continued to absorb Leonard’s faster and more accurate punches in exchange for Kalule’s bruising and ambidextrous, unpredictable punches. But Leonard did seem to sense that with the formidability of Kalule, the best thing for him to do would be to take the risk of throwing in a flurry of combinations that would disable Kalule. Ray Leonard apparently sensed that strong Kalule was also tiring and slowing down. Near the end of the round, Leonard unleashed a series of hard combinations that seemed to confuse Kalule. A flash right hand landed Kalule to the ground into a sitting position, an indication that he was not unduly hurt. At the count of six, Kalule got up, and backed up to the ropes of the neutral corner to further recuperate. The Panamanian referee who did not communicate in English, surprisingly, stopped the fight. Kalule appeared stunned by the stoppage, shrugging his shoulders and arms in questioning stance. There are claims of miscommunication between Kalule and the referee. It is said that the referee was not convinced that Kalule was willing or able to continue, based on facial gestures, but not on exchange of words between the referee and Kalule! It was deemed by Kalule’s team, that their champion had been unfairly dispossessed of his world title. An unsuccessful formal protest followed. But again, Ray Leonard was regarded as a small version of Muhammad Ali, maybe his successor in skill, speed and antics. This was American territory and Americans wanted famous and handsome golden Olympian Ray Leonard to win. Ray Leonard displayed the antics of Muhammad Ali, and was widely regarded as the heir apparent of, “The Greatest.”

Ayub Kalule had been scheduled to represent Uganda at those Olympics in Montreal in 1976 where “Sugar” Ray Leonard won gold, but Uganda became one of the many countries that boycotted the Games. The “Sports Illustrated” cover of July 6, 1981 reveals Ray Leonard in the process of landing a left jab to the chin of Ayub Kalule. It turned out that at the stoppage of the Kalule-Leonard bout, at 3 minutes and 6 seconds of the 9th round, the bout had unanimously been scored in Leonard’s favor: 76-78 by Panamanian referee Carlos Berrocal, 76-78 by judge Harmodio Cedeno, and 75-78 by judge Ismael W. Fernandez. Hence, even relative to the scoring, the differences in scores were too small for the fight to be easily and prematurely stopped. But let credit due be given to Leonard. He was the faster and more flexible of the two fighters, he landed more combinations, and he had moved up in weight to fight Kalule. This loss confirmed that Kalule had reigned as WBA Junior Middleweight champion for 20 months.

Ayub Kalule would unsuccessfully contest the decision that favored Leonard. In the September 19, 2009 issue of the Uganda national newspaper “New Vision,” Moses Mugalu reports on a recent interview (“Face to Face with Kalule”) with a 55 year-old Kalule. Kalule remarks, regarding the knockout at the hands of Ray Leonard: “I was shocked when the ref stopped the fight because I had beaten the count before the bell rang. I went to my corner for a break and was ready to continue fighting.” In much of the rest of the interview, Kalule laments his business investments in Kenya (neighboring his native Uganda which was not regarded as comparatively stable for investments) following, his retiring in 1986. The investments were disastrous and involved swindling. Kalule had invested with his buddy, former sparring partner, fellow countryman, and former highly ranked boxer Mustapha Wasajja who was a light-heavyweight. In the interview, Kalule mentions that he has children in Denmark, Kenya, and in his native country where he now resides and trains boxers. He was reconsidering moving back to Denmark for promotional contracts which he had turned down over the years. Kalule also lamented the sorry state of affairs of the sport of boxing in Uganda which he says involves corruption and bribery. Kalule says of Uganda boxing: “Real boxing stopped with our generation, the current crop of boxers have had a bad foundation.” About why his face looks remarkably smooth for a boxer, a face not bearing the swells and marks noticeable on many long-time boxers, Kalule tells Moses Mugalu, “I had a long reach. I used it properly to keep my opponents at a distance and I guarded well that’s why my face is smooth.”

Only three months after his historical battle with Ray Leonard, Kalule was back in the ring. On October 9, 1981 in Copenhagen, Kalule beat Spaniard Andoni Amana on points. Amana notably had an impressive record of 42 wins and only 2 losses, reigned as Spanish middleweight champion, and had unsuccessfully failed to capture the European Boxing Union title in just the previous fight against Tony Sibson of the United Kingdom. This was apparently the beginning of Amana facing quite formidable opponents, and Amana’s losses would continue to accrue.

A month later, Kalule challenged O’Dell Leonard of the USA in Randers in Denmark. Leonard’s record was mediocre (16 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw), the fight was scheduled for only eight rounds, Kalule won by points. Next, on February 26, 1982, Kalule would be pitted against France-based Jacques Chinon of Martinique. With a record of 20 wins, 20 losses, and 5 draws, Chinon’s record was not impressive. But he managed to fight Kalule the whole 10 rounds, Kalule winning by points, in Copenhagen.

On April 30, 1982, Kalule challenged American Oscar Albarado, the encounter again taking place in Copenhagen. Though apparently declining, the veteran Albarado had an impressive record of 58 wins, 12 losses, and 1 draw. “Shotgun” Albarado even reigned as world WBC and WBA light-middleweight champion for six months, from June 1974 to January 1975. He was moving into his mid-thirties, and he had boxed professionally since the 1960’s. Sadly, Albarado had lost his previous two fights by knockout. Kalule’s knockout of Albarado in the second round would officially be the end of Albarado’s professional career. Apparently, Kalule had remained very active, notwithstanding his loss to Ray Leonard. In his next professional outing, Kalule would once again challenge for the WBA World light-middleweight title.

Ayub Kalule was set to challenge young, upcoming and undefeated (10 wins, no losses) Davey “Bronx” Moore of the USA, in Atlantic City in New Jersey on July 17, 1982. Moore had won the WBA title in February 1982, wresting it from Japanese Tadashi Mihara by knockout in the bout that took place in Tokyo. At the time of the knockout (10th round of a scheduled 15 rounds), the judges each had Kalule trailing by a couple of points. 24-year old Davey Moore lost the WBA title to legendary Panamanian Roberto Duran, by knockout; after one title defense in which Moore had knocked our Gary Guiden. In 1986, in France, Moore was knocked out by American Buster Drayton who defended his IBF world light-middleweight title. There followed 5 more non-title bouts with heavily ranked and talented boxers such as Edwin Rosario, Lupe Aquino, and John David Jackson. The results were mixed. Davey Moore’s last official fight was with Gary Coates, in New York. Moore won by a knockout. on April 30, 1988. On June 2, 1988, Moore was apparently killed in his own garage, when he stepped out of his car to open the garage door. The car was running and was geared in reverse instead of neutral, the car abruptly rolled backward and pressed him against the garage door, killing Moore on the scene.

Next Kalule would face undefeated and future WBA champion, Jamaican Mike McCallum in a non-title but significant bout. On November 13, 1982, again in Atlantic City in New Jersey, Kalule would face a skillful McCallum who many notable boxers such as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran had apparently avoided challenging. But while McCallum’s amateur career is not as spectacular as Ayub Kalule’s, McCallum got better and better with time. McCallum represented Jamaica at the inaugural World Boxing Championships in Havana held in 1974. He boxed as a welterweight, and he was eliminated early in the rounds by Clint Jackson of the United States. Notably, Ayub Kalule as a light-welterweight became the first African to win gold in this tournament.

Kalule would also win the British Commonwealth Games’ gold medal, and the All-Africa Boxing Championships’ gold medal in the same year of 1974. Mike (Michael) McKenzie McCallum would later win gold at the British Commonwealth Games, held in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada in 1978, representing Jamaica. Earlier on in 1977, McCallum became USA Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) welterweight champion. In the same year, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ Welterweight champion. Again in 1979, McCallum became USA National Golden Gloves’ welterweight champion. In 1979 at the Pan-American Games held in San Juan in Puerto Rico McCallum was knocked out in the second round in the finals by Andres Aldama of Cuba; so, McCallum had to settle for silver medal. The last major amateur encounter for McCallum involved him in losing to New York Puerto Rican Alex “the Bronx Bomber” Ramos, for the New York Golden Gloves’ Championships.

The Kalule vs. McCallum fight was not a title bout, it was scheduled to last 10 rounds. McCallum overwhelmingly dominated Kalule. McCallum was slimmer and 2 inches taller than the stockier Kalule, McCallum was visibly faster and more agile and accurate in jabbing, and his continuous blows hit the head and anywhere above the waistline. McCallum took advantage of his long reach and speed, leaving a strong and valiant Kalule unable to reach him. Kalule also suffered an upper-cut knockdown during the preliminary rounds. Kalule kept being punched by “The Body Snatcher” McCallum, and in the 7th round was on the verge of being knocked down. The decision in Kalule’s corner was that he would not continue. McCallum had won by technical knockout by Kalule retiring! McCallum would in 1984 become WBA world light-middleweight champion, a title he would lose to Sumbu Kalambay (a Zairean resident of Italy) whom Kalule had defeated. McCallum notably became the first Jamaican world boxing champion. McCallum would later regain the WBA title by defeating Herol Graham who was the opponent in Kalule’s last professional fight. McCallum even became WBC world light-heavyweight champion, was later defeated, and later retired in 1997, aged 40, after an illustrious and excellent career of 49 wins, 5 losses, and 1 draw. Both McCallum and Kalule are ranked as among the greatest of world light-middleweight boxers of all time.

It was after an unusually long spell of nearly 18 months that Kalule was entered for a professional fight. On April 25, 1984, Kalule knocked out highly regarded and undefeated Jimmy Price of the United Kingdom, knocking him out in the first round in London. Kalule went on to knock out Canadian Wayne Caplette, in the third round in Randers in Denmark, in October 1984. On November 9, 1984, Kalule outpointed Lindell Holmes from the United States. Lindell Holmes would, after several spirited attempts become IBF super-middleweight world champion in 1990 with a win by majority decision over legendary American boxer Frank Tate.

The next significant bout for Kalule would be that against France’s highly regarded champion Pierre Jolly on June 20, 1985, in Copenhagen. This was a contest for the vacant EBU (European Boxing Union) middleweight title. Jolly lost, by a TKO in round 8, in a fight scheduled for 12 rounds.

Six months later, this time in Marche in Italy, Kalule was pitted against Zairean born Sumbu Kalambay, right in Kalambay’s adopted hometown. The bout which took place on December 19, 1985 involved two fine boxers. Kalule was knocked down in round 5 and in round 11. Kalambay was knocked down in the final 12th round. The referee Mike Jacobs awarded Kalambay the win by 113-114, the two judges sided with Kalule: 118-115 , and 117-114. Kalule had retained the EBU title by majority decision! As for Kalambay, he would in 1987 win the EBU middleweight title by beating Herol Graham, would even beat legendary American Iran Barkley for the vacant WBA world middleweight title, by unanimous decision; he would in 1988 defend against Mike McCallum for the same title, beat Americans Robbie Simms by unanimous decision and knock out American Doug Dewitt for the same title. Kalambay’s biggest humiliation of his career came with his getting knocked down by Michael Nunn in the first round of the IBF world championship match-up. “Ring Magazine” dubbed this, the “1989 Knockout of the Year.” To add insult to injury, the WBA had already stripped Kalambay of his WBA middleweight crown!

In the next year of 1990, Kalambay’s wins, in non-title bouts, would mostly come by knockouts. On Aril Fool’s Day of 1991, he again was pitted against his nemesis Mike McCallum for the WBA world middleweight title, in Mote Carlo in Monaco. The bout went the full 12 rounds. Judge Fernando Viso had Kalambay lose by 114-116, Judge Orlando Sam had Kalambay win by 115-114, and Judge Justo Vasquez had Kalambay lose 115-116. In their revenge re-match bout, McCallum had won narrowly. Kalambay’s next several wins included the defense of his EBU title against Steve “The Celtic Warrior” Collins of Ireland, the bout taking place in Italy. May 19, 1993 would officially mark Kalambay’s last official professional appearance as a boxer. He was beaten by British Chris Pyatt in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom, by unanimous decision, and thus failed to capture the vacant WBO (World Boxing Organization) world middleweight title. With 57 wins, 6 losses, and 1 draw, a man who challenged many boxing greats, Sumbu Kalambay will remain an African and Italian legend.

On February 5, 1986, Kalule was scheduled to defend his title in Yorkshire in the United Kingdom against Herol “Bomber” Graham of the United Kingdom. Graham stopped Kalule in round 10, of a scheduled 12 rounds. The loss of Kalule’s EBU title to Herol Graham officially spelled Kalule’s hanging up his gloves from the professional scene. It is of interest that Herol Graham, as an amateur beat another famous Ugandan boxer–John Mugabi in the finals of the Junior World Championships held in 1976. The loss to Graham spelled Kalule’s 46th and final fight.

In the issue of the Uganda newspaper “Bukedde” in the article “Kalule Ayomba” by Silvano Kibuuka (November 9, 2009), Kalule recounts that he had intended to retire after 50 fights, and that one of the biggest things he was proud of was that he never got beaten in the ring by a white boxer. Kalule left Denmark in 1993 and settled in Kenya where his business ventures failed. He went back to his his native Uganda, after several years in Kenya.

Later, in 1987, Graham lost the EBU title to Sumbu Kalambay (whom Kalule had defeated). Graham would also lose to Mike McCallum (by split decision) in 1989, in London, for the vacant WBA world middleweight title. After some victories, Graham would be knocked out in round 4 by Julian Jackson, in the bid for the vacant WBC world middleweight title, the bout taking place in Andalucia in Spain.

In 1992, Graham again lost to Kalambay in his attempt at the EBU middleweight title, in Marche in Italy. After some impressive wins and one loss to Frank Grant, Graham faced Charles Brewer of the USA for IBF world super-middleweight championship in New Jersey in 1998. Though Graham had built an early lead and even knocked down Brewer twice, Graham was eventually knocked out in round 10. That was the end of Graham’s boxing career.

As for Ayub Kalule, given his excellent amateur wins in his native Uganda country, in the east and central African regional championships, in the all-Africa boxing championships, at the amateur world championships, at the European championships, and the world championships, Kalule will for decades remain Uganda’s most accomplished and most decorated boxer. Kalule boxed during his country’s golden age of boxing and sports (the 1960’s and 1970’s), all the professional boxers (only four) who managed to defeat legendary Ayub Kalule are themselves legends. Ayub Kalule was occasionally denied opportunities for the world crown, by the WBA. Kalule’s willingness to fight any contender, above all, illustrates himself as a very dedicated and determined competitor who loved and respected his game of boxing. During his professional tenure of boxing while resident in Denmark, Kalule there and then became the most renowned migrant.

Jonathan Musere