Posts Tagged ‘east africa’

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


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

May 13, 2011


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Jonathan Musere

William Dralu: Uganda Star Sprinter

May 12, 2011

Although Uganda has never internationally significantly nurtured champions in the short sprints, one William Santino Dralu achieved a reasonable level of significance in the realm, during the late 1960’s and in the 1970’s. Dralu has endured, for more than forty years in Uganda’s history, as a prominent Ugandan sprinter, more specifically in the 100m and 200m dashes, and in the sprint relays. Even after decades, Dralu continues to be an inspiration for Uganda sprinters. The level of international participation of Ugandan track and field athletes, continues to be disproportionately significant in the middle- and long-distances realm; leaving a dearth of athletic representation in the sprints and in the field events.

In 1969, at the East and Central African Championships (an annual track and field battle initially between, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania), William Santino Dralu achieved his biggest international accomplishments by winning in the 100m dash with a time of 10.5 seconds. This meet was held in Dralu’s home country, in the capital of Kampala in Uganda. Significantly, in the same year, Dralu established a 100m dash national record of 10.1s, a Uganda record that has endured for four decades. The record was set in the Uganda capital, Kampala, on August 8, 1969. This was an excellent record, given that the world record at that time was 9.9 seconds. Prestigiously, with this timing of 10.1, in the international Track and Field statistics, William Dralu would be ranked third in the world in 1969 (along with Charles Greene and John Carlos of USA , Pablo Montes of Cuba, Edwin Roberts of Trinidad, Melvin Pender of USA, and Detlef Lewandowski and Hermann Burde of the German Democratic Republic). Hermes Ramirez of Cuba, and Valeriy Borzov of the Soviet Union, both with a personal best timing of 10.0 in the 100m dash were respectively ranked first and second.

It is in Pietersburg in South Africa, on March 11 in 1998, that Ugandan Moses Mila equaled the Uganda record by a hand-timed 10.1 seconds. However, on website, Moses Mila’s personal best is listed as 10.48s and achieved in Johannesburg in South Africa, on March 27, 1998. At the same track meet, Moses Mila, according to the, ran his personal best in the 200m dash, a timing of 20.63s, on the same day.

Muscular William Dralu stood at a relatively tall 6′ 0″. He was born on June 27, 1947, in the east African country of Uganda. Dralu’s achievements at the Olympics, held previously in 1968 in Mexico City, were much less flattering than his achievements in 1969. At the Olympics of 1968, 21 year-old Dralu was enlisted to compete in the 100m and 200m dash. As for the 200m dash, in Heat 5 of the first round, Dralu was disappointingly eliminated after running in 6th with a time of 21.38s. His personal best of 21.1s would be achieved in the following year of 1968. In the 100m dash, Dralu was similarly eliminated very early, turning out to be 7th in Heat 1 of Round 1, timed at 10.8 seconds. At the Olympics of 1968, Dralu’s ultimate performance rank is 59th (of 66 competitors) in the 100m dash and 36th (of 49 competitors) in the 200m dash.

The next Olympics would be held in the summer of 1972 in Munich in Germany. Santino Dralu’s achievements would, again, be inconspicuous at the Olympics. In the 100m dash, 25 year-old Dralu was seventh in just Round One (Heat 6), in a time of 10.92s. Even in the 200m, Dralu was eliminated from moving further on, after ending up 6th in Heat 6 of round one, Dralu timed at 21.87s. Significantly, Dralu’s performance at the 1972 Olympics, was generally no better than his performance at the previous Olympics. At the Olympics of 1972, Dralu’s final performance rank is 67th (out of 90 competitors) in the 100m dash, and 48th (out of 66 competitors) in the 200m dash.

The next significant international track gathering took place in Christchurch in New Zealand from January 24-February 2, 1974. These were the British Commonwealth Games which are held after every four years. William Dralu was part of the Uganda 4×400 meters relay team that won bronze (3.07.45), behind the winning Kenya team (in 3.04:43); and the British team (3.06.66) which won silver. The other runners in the Uganda relay team were Pius Olowo, Samuel Kakonge, and Silver Ayoo. This is the only occasion, so far, that Uganda has achieved medal status in either the Olympic or British Commonwealth Games.

The East and Central African Athletics Championships of 1976 were held in May of 1976 in Tanzania. This was a quite exciting duel between the participating countries, the events including many world class athletes. Uganda managed to win, overall, beating favored Kenya. In the 200m final, legendary Kenyan sprinter Charles Asati managed to ward off Dralu. Asati would win in 21.2 seconds, Dralu would be second in 21.5 seconds, and John Mwebi of Kenya third in 21.6 seconds. At age 29, this would be one of Dralu’s prestigious performances.

By participating, and even being ranked highly, at world level; and by emerging among the top sprinters in several national and regional events during the 1960’s and 1970’s, William Santino Dralu has maintained legendary national status as one of the foremost of Uganda’s sprinters.

Jonathan Musere

Amos Omolo: Uganda’s Top 1960’s Sprinter and Track Olympian

May 12, 2011

Uganda sprinter Amos Omolo was born on March 9, 1937 presumably in Kenya from where he is said to have migrated to Uganda for which he competed for a considerably lengthy period of time. Omolo comes through as a dedicated and excellent runner, one who competed with some of the legendary 400m world-record holders and Olympians of the 1960’s and 1970’s. At the Olympic Games of 1968, Amos Omolo would establish a national record in the 400m run, that would endure for 27 years. As such, Amos Omolo will forever stand out, internationally, as Uganda’s (first) premier elite runner.

At the British Commonwealth Games of 1962 held in Perth in Western Australia, held during November 22-December 1, Amos Omolo demonstrated international competence. Omolo’s bronze medal win in the 440 yards run (nearly the equivalent of the metric 400 meter-run) timed in 46.88 seconds was a photo-finishing close battle. George Kerr of Jamaica won in 46.74 seconds, and Robbie Brightwell of England came in second with in 46.86. In Bob Phillip’s Honour of Empire, Glory of Sport: the History of Athletics at the Commonwealth Games (2000: 92), it is mentioned that this was only the sixth time that bronze medalist Omolo had dabbled in this distance. Many were impressed by this African performance, a promise of spectacular African performances in the very near future. Omolo was also part of the Uganda 4x400m relay team. The others in the group were Asmani Bawala, Francis Hatega, and George Odeke. It was a prestigious presence, but the Uganda team was eighth and last in a time of 3:13.6.The only other medal won for Uganda was a bronze gathered by Benson Ishiepai who ran in the 440 yards-hurdles.

The other notable Uganda achievements at these Games were by way of boxing: a gold medal won by heavyweight George Oywello, a bronze medal won by bantamweight J.Sentongo, silver medal won by lightweight Kesi Odongo, and a bronze medal won by Francis Nyangweso. The overall 6-medals’ count was a milestone for newly politically independent Uganda. Uganda’s overall performance was 11th out of the 35 nations that competed at the Games. The leap was gigantic, compared to the lone Uganda medal won by welterweight boxer Thomas Kawere in the previous Commonwealth Games that were held in 1958 in Cardiff in Wales. In Cardiff, Uganda emerged 17th, overall out of 24 participating nations. Uganda first participated in the Commonwealth Games in 1954, held in Vancouver in Canada. Uganda’s inaugural participation resulted in a lone medal for the nation: the silver medal won by Patrick Etolu in the high jump. This was an encouraging start for Uganda, the nation placed 14th overall, out of 24 participating countries.

Tokyo hosted the summer Olympics of 1964 that were opened by Emperor Hirohito on October 11, 1964. The closing ceremony took place on October 24. Amos Omolo’s relatively mediocre performance would not allow him to move on beyond the very first round. In heat 3 of the four heats, 27-year old Omolo finished 5th with a time of 47.6. All the men who had beaten Omolo were considerably younger than him. Further disappointment came in Tokyo, when the Uganda 4×100 men’s relay team consisting of Amos Omolo, Erasmus Amukun, Aggrey Awori, and James Odongo were eliminated from further contention after ending up in 6th place in the preliminary round.

The Commonwealth Games were next held in Kingston in Jamaica, during August 4-13, 1966. Uganda did not win any medals in track running, but boxers Alex Odhiambo (light-welterweight), Mathias Ouma (middleweight), and Benson Ocan (heavyweight) went back home with bronze medals. Uganda’s overall performance, compared to that registered in the previous Commonwealth Games, was lackluster. Uganda emerged 21st overall, out of 32 participating countries.

The East and Central African Athletics Championships (primarily involving Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania; and later also Zambia, Somalia, Ethiopia, and even Egypt) are normally held annually. Among Omolo’s crowning performances at these Championships were the gold medal he won in 1968, the tournament held in Tanzania’s capital Dar-es-Salaam. Omolo won in 47.6 seconds. During the 1960’s, Omolo was often part of the Uganda’s many medal victories in both the short and long relays.

Amos Omolo arrived in Mexico City to represent Uganda at the Olympics held during October 12-27 in 1968, he was nearly 32 years old and he was notably Uganda’s oldest participant. His comparatively advanced age, with many of the world’s top 100m and 400m runners nearly 10 or more years younger than him, did not seem to phase Omolo’s determination.

Omolo was much less regarded in the 100m than in the 400m run. In Round One (held on October 13) of the 100m dash, Omolo was drawn in Heat 2. Surprisingly, Omolo was comparatively impressive, running in fourth (in 10.5 seconds) respectively behind legendary future world-record holder 22 year-old James Ray “Jim” Hines (10.26 seconds) of the USA, Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa (10.30 seconds) of Madagascar, and Gaoussou Koné (10.37 seconds) of the Ivory Coast. The four advanced to the quarter-finals’ round.

The quarter-finals were held later, on the same day of October 13. Omolo was drawn in Heat 3. Omolo was eliminated from further contention after running in 7th and timed at
10.45 seconds. The winner was Pablo Montes of Cuba (in 10.1 seconds). The three who followed, advanced to the semi-finals. They were Hartmut Schelter (10.29 seconds) of East Germany, Hideo Iijima (10.31 seconds) of Japan, and a photofinishing Gerard Fenouil (10.31 seconds) of France. The four advanced to the semi-finals.

On October 16, the Round One heats of the men’s 400 meters-dash were held. Omolo won in his heat (Heat Five), with an impressive time of 45.88 seconds. The runners who respectively finished behind him and altogether advanced to the next (quarter-finals) round were Munyoro Hezekiah Nyamau (45.91 seconds) of Kenya, Jean-Claude Nallet (45.93 seconds) of France, and Hellmar Muller (45.98 seconds) of West Germany.

The quarter-finals were held on the next day, October 17th. Omolo was drawn in Heat Two. Consequently, his performance was phenomenal. Omolo won with a crowning Uganda national record of 45.33 seconds that would stand until Davis Kamoga broke it in 1995 on May 5 in Nairobi in Kenya, timed in 45.29 seconds. Kamoga would subsequently improve on the record for five more times until August 5, 1997 whereby in a second-place finishing in Athens at the 6th IAAF World Athletics Championships, Kamoga was timed at a national record of 44.37 seconds. Davis Kamoga is still officially the only Ugandan to have run the 400 meters faster than Omolo.

Omolo did beat past and future 400m (and 4x400m relay) world record older Lee Evans of the USA, in the quarter-finals. But, it could well be that legendary 21 year-old Lee Evans was simply relaxed during the race and was comfortable with simply and safely advancing to the next (semi-final) round. Lee Evans ran in second in 45.54 seconds, Munyoro Hezekiah Nyamau was third and timed at 46.12 seconds, and Wolfgang Muller of East Germany (GDR) was fourth in 46.32 seconds. The four advanced to the semi-finals. Amos Omolo had proved that he was a strong medal prospect! Hezekiah Nyamau would later be part of the surprising 1968 Kenya 4x400m relay team that established a national record and won silver, being runners-up to world record-breaking USA.

In the next Olympics (Munich, 1972), Hezekiah Nyamau would be part of the Kenya gold winning team. The USA had become weakened because recent 400m gold and silver medallists Vince Mathews and Wayne Collett were banned from further competition because of alleged shoddy indiscipline as they stood on the medal stands as the USA anthem was played. American John Smith who was the favorite to win in the 400m run, was weakened by a leg injury and in the finals he pulled out early in the race. Severely reducing the USA team, gave Kenya the opportunity to win. They did just that, proving that their silver medal win in the previous Olympics had not been a fluke! In addition to Nyamau, the Kenya relay team consisted of all fine and legendary runners: Charles Asati, Julius Sang (the 400m bronze medal win at the same Olympics), and Robert Ouko.

The semi-finals of the 400m run were also held on the same day the quarter-finals were held (October 17), testimony that the closeness between the heats required the strategy of the competitors to minimize overexerting themselves. The tables did turn! In heat two, where Omolo was placed, Lee Edward Evans won in 44.83 seconds (a new Olympics’ record), arch-nemesis 20 year-old George Lawrence “Larry” James of the USA ran in second in 44.88 seconds, 23 year-old Martin Jellinghaus of West Germany (FDR) ran in third and was timed at 45.06 seconds, and 31 year-old Amos Omolo came in fourth in 45.52 seconds. These four athletes would move on to the finals in which they would compete with the other (Heat One) first-four semi finalists: 28 year-old Amadou Gakou (45.17 seconds) of Senegal, 21 year-old Ron Freeman (45.47 seconds) of the USA, 25 year-old Andrzej Badenski (45.50 seconds) of Poland, and 27 year-old Tegegne Bezabeh (45.60 seconds) of Ethiopia. The line-up was set up for the final showdown!

In just the next day, with not much of an interval rest, the finals of the men’s 400m run were set for October 18. The race would prove to be outstanding and historical. Amos Omolo was unfavorably drawn in the outermost lane 8 (lane 4 and 5 are considered the more advantageous in this distance run) where the runner is placed at the forefront of the competition at the beginning, whereby his judging of the speed competition behind him is minimized. In the end, Lee Evans won in a new world record of 43.86 seconds that would not be broken until 20 years later (in 1988) by Harry “Butch” Reynolds of USA. Furthermore, Lee Evans had become the first man to ever run the 400 meters below 44 seconds. Young Larry James, in unfavorable lane 2 had chased Evans down, but would only manage to rush in at 43.97 seconds (a personal best).

Perhaps one of the inspirations behind these sub-44 seconds’ achievements had been Omolo who had started off with a surging sprint in the first 200 meters. But Omolo apparently became drained. he ended up in last (8th) place with a mediocre timing of an athlete who had lost hope, in 47.61 seconds. As for the rest of the field, American Ron Freeman running in disadvantageous lane 1 won the bronze medal with a time of 44.41 seconds. Perhaps the big race ultimately became a battle between Lee Evans and Larry James.

The fourth place finisher was Amadou Gakou (in favorable lane 5) of Senegal in 45.01 seconds, Martin Jellinghaus (in lane 3) of West Germany (FDR/ FRG) came in fifth in 45.33 seconds. Tegegne Bezabeh of Ethiopia, running in favorable lane four, was placed 6th and timed at 45.42 seconds. Andrzej Badenski of Poland ran in 7th in a photo-finish with Bezabeh, Badenski also timed in 45.42. An apparently disillusioned and struggling Omolo would be the only one among the finalists to finish in a time of more than 46 seconds and even more than 47 seconds. Omolo trailed behind and finished in a disappointing 47.61 seconds! Not something that would have been expected of a competitor who had won in two of the previous rounds.

The Olympics of 1968 would be Omolo’s last magnanimous appearance. Amos Omolo’s performance was bitter-sweet. Omolo had proved his worth, despite his advancing age, with establishing his personal best and longstanding 400m Uganda record in 1968. He prestigiously won in two previous succeeding heats, he went on to the finals of an Olympic running event, achievements which still remain rare among Uganda’s Olympians. The Olympics in Mexico City were among the most significant in history. The “black power” demonstrations were there, Africans (more so the Kenyans with the several medals they won) displayed that they were a force to reckon with on the sports scene. Several Africans established personal, regional, and even Olympic records. Amos Omolo was very much part of that magnanimous history.


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.…/1962_British_Empire_and_Commonwealth_Games

Jonathan Musere

Joseph G.Healey’s “Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy”–a Review

May 10, 2011

“Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy” (Orbis Books, 2004), compiled by Joseph G. Healey, is a unique and intriguing book that remarkably captures the essence of African society in response to and in cooperation with Christianity, other religions, and other foreign influences. But this is not an academic book laden with complex and boring theories. Rather, the book contains close to 100 short stories that convey experiences of east Africans with Christian missionaries from the west. Each story is unique and can convey an African parable, an abridged African story, an encounter with a group of Africans, missionary work in African schools, African response to death and dying, the extent to which Africans compete with each other relative to other world societies, the importance of Africans sharing and running together, how Africans perceive Christianity and foreign behavior, etc. Many of the stories are humorous, but the value message does not become lost. A Maasai moran wonders how great Jesus was. Relating to the Maasai aspect of recognizing greatness and manhood, the moran questions whether Jesus ever killed a lion and how many wives he had.

In a running competition, a nun wonders why the schoolgirls keep crossing the finishing line together. They tell her that they do not want to leave anyone behind, they want to finish together. Many of these stories convey African society as highly cooperative, not heavily dwelling on a person outpointing and crushing the other and taking the spotlight. Africans traditionally do not want to be separated from each other, and will work hard to stay together even when threatened by differences in religious belief. They are far less materialistic than many other societies of the world, they can achieve joy and happiness in the face of poverty and misfortune; they are generally not imbued with that western spirit of materialism, monopoly, and selfishness.

Africans believe in re-incarnation, believing that the spirit of a good person always returns to earth through a newborn, dead ancestors are guardian angels. African societies are shown to have their accounts of creation. African proverbs are numerous and tell a lot about Africans. In the book, Africans are portrayed in their homes, the gardens, in church, in prayer, in hunting, at work, etc. This is indeed a book about African joy and wisdom concisely illustrated with short significant stories, tales, proverbs, encounters and happenings.

Father Joseph Healey, who is originally from the United States and has operated in east Africa for several decades, managed to compile a gem of a book that one never gets tired of reading. Healey’s extensive practical familiarization with many African languages and ways of life made him the ideal candidate to compile this heart-warming and objective volume. More than any other text, the book illustrates joy and wisdom in the day-to-day basic lives of Africans and their response to a new world that gets smaller and smaller and becomes more connected. The contents also illustrate how people from other parts of the world practically respond to and perceive African life. The stories in this book are short, but their messages are very powerful. Lessons on Africa are conveyed through aspects of adventure, ministering, religion, folklore, prayer, stories, African culture, poetry, spirituality, and tales.

Jonathan Musere

Abraham Munabi: Uganda’s Greatest Triple-Jumper

May 10, 2011

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s an excellent student at the prestigious rigorous Medical School at renowned Makerere University in Kampala established himself as one of the top African and Commonwealth of Nations’ triple jumpers. Abraham Kwadu Munabi, born on 19th December 1940, was like Uganda 1960’s champion sprinter Amos Omolo apparently a late-age entrant to significant sports competition. Munabi was the biggest name and medal hope in Uganda field athletics during the time. The national record that Munabi established in the triple jump, still stands four decades later. But no, it is not for his athletic achievements that the world has mostly come to recognize Munabi. Dr. Munabi moved to the USA in the late-1970’s for advanced studies, where he was involved in specialized experimentation and research in reproduction. In the space of more than thirty years, Munabi’s name has appeared on a stream of research papers. Munabi is renowned as a fertility expert, a reproductive endocrinologist. A board certified gynecologist, Munabi founded and is director the Reproductive Science Institute of Suburban Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Munabi jumped to a personal best of 16.11m and national triple jump record in September 1969. Here Munabi won gold in the triple jump at the East and Central African regional Games. The annual Games were held the capital city Kampala in Munabi’s native Uganda. Munabi’s jump-length win of 16.11m far surpassed the competition. At the same tournament, Munabi won gold in the long jump with 7.24m. Munabi would again bag gold in the triple jump at these regional Games in 1972, held in the Tanzania capital Dar-es-Salaam. The winning length was 15.40m. The next most significant international sports gathering for Munabi would be the Commonwealth of Nation’s Games of 1970 that were held in Edinburgh in Scotland. On July 24th, twenty-eight international competitors would interchangeably hop, skip, and jump in the qualifying round for the finals that would happen the next day. Munabi, with a jump of 15.51 meters, was placed ninth out of the thirteen finalists. The top five finalists were Australian Mile McGrath (16.09m), Samuel Igun of Nigeria (16.08m), Mohinder Singh Gill of India (15.90m), Australian Phil May (15.87m), and Tony Wadhams of England (15.80m). Despite his ninth place ranking, Abe felt he would ably grab a medal for Uganda. The finals witnessed Phil Gray (Australia), with a length of 16.72m, take the gold; Mike McGrath (16.41m) also of Australia, bagged the silver; and Mohinder Singh (India) was third after a jump of 15.90m. Abraham Munabi of Uganda was placed, a not too disappointing, fourth (15.73m). These Commonwealth of Nations Games of 1970 witnessed Uganda emerge, with an impressive collection of medals, becoming the Commonwealth boxing champions. Boxing gold medals were won by Mohamed Muruli (light-welterweight), James Odwori (light-flyweight) and Benson Masanda (heavyweight); and the silver medals were won by flyweight Leo Rwabwogo and lightweight Deogratias Musoke. In athletics, Uganda’s William Koskei (silver medal in 400m-hurdles) and Judith Ayaa (bronze medal in the 400m) were the prize winners. John Akii-Bua (400m-hurdles), aged 20, was like Munabi, beaten into fourth place. At the Olympics of 1972 that were held in Munich, 31 year-old Munabi (out of the competing 6 male and 2 female athletes) was Uganda’s oldest participant. At 5’11 (180 cm), Munabi was a relatively light 154 pounds (70 kg). There were 36 internationals for the triple jump competition that took place from September 3rd to 4th. Munabi ended up with a rather mediocre best length of 15.82m, and was placed 22nd ranked overall. Munabi’s foul in the Third Round halted his progress. For comfort, Munabi had beaten a third of the field. The Olympic medal winners were, respectively Viktor Saneyev of the Soviet Union, Jorg Drehmel of East Germany, and Nelson Prudencio of Brazil. Munabi was determined to win gold at the next All-Africa Games that would be held in August of 1973. Munabi was beaten to second place by Mansour Mamadou Dia of Senegal. But of significance Munabi had triple jumped to 16.26 meters, a national record that stands to this day. Gold medallist Mansour Dia had jumped to 16.53 meters, while bronze medallist Moise Pomaney of Ghana had achieved 16.09 meters. Dia also won a bronze medal in the long jump at these All-Africa Games. Also, Mansour Dia had not only represented Senegal at the previous three Olympics, he had also achieved the personal best and national record at the previous 1972 Olympics (16.77m), a national record that would stand for more than 3.5 decades. At the Olympics, Dia who is only a week younger than Munabi was overall 13th in 1964, 8th in 1968, and 6th in 1972. The overall Uganda performance at the All-Africa Games was excellent, with boxers and athletes winning an impressive number of medals that Uganda has never come close to winning in the Africa Games since the 1973 performance (8 gold, 6 silver, 6 bronze). Uganda was sixth overall. In the next year, Munabi would have competed for Uganda at the Commonwealth Games that were held in Christchurch in New Zealand. One of his impediments were the trying finals he had to attend to in his Medicine program at Makerere University. Munabi finished 6th in the triple jump at the 1976 Montreal pre-Olympic meet. Joshua Owusu (also Commonwealth of Nations Games’ champion) of Ghana here won the gold. In the journal “Africa” (1976: 142) Munabi, now aged 34, is described as having slim hopes of winning an Olympic medal for Africa, but as being a major inspiration for the future of field athletics in Uganda. Indeed, at that time, it was Munabi who was Uganda’s field athletics’ top hit. At the same pre-Olympic meet, Ugandan boxer, Mustapha Wasajja, later to turn professional and become a top-ranked world fighter, won Uganda’s lone gold. Unfortunately, Uganda, as did many other countries, boycotted and withdrew from the Olympic Games that would soon take place in Montreal. The tradition of sports and academic excellence prevails in the Munabi family. Son Tunji Adrian Munabi was a student and all round-athlete at prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto in California. Tunji was a top goal-scorer for the Stanford Cardinals, also a triple jump and long jump champion. But the son has not smashed the family triple-jump and long-jump records that the father established. Naikhoba another excellent student and athlete, the sister of Tunji, recently joined Stanford and competes in the triple jump. As for Uganda, recent accolades and hope in the triple jump competition come by way of Sarah Nambawa (a track and field athlete) who in the last couple of years has become triple jump Africa champion (Nairobi, August 2010), established a Uganda record (13.95m), and was placed fifth at the Commonwealth Games of 2010 that were held in New Delhi. Earlier the 2010 IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup held in Split in Croatia in early September 2010, against imposing international competition Uganda’s Nambawa finished 6th with her 13.78m jump. Also, earlier, competing for Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, in June 2010, Nambawa’s leap of 13.66m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships that were held in Eugene in Oregon placed her as 2nd overall. There is ample room for Nambawa to ably displace “Abe” as Uganda’s greatest triple jumper. Nambawa is certainly the most appropriate athlete to rekindle our memories of the sports achievements of Abraham Munabi.

Jonathan Musere

Justin Arop: Uganda’s Star Javelin Thrower and Master Field Athlete

March 4, 2011

Javelin throwing is highly technical, and it is also stressful on the arms and shoulders. In a region where there is a dearth of internationally competitive field athletes, javelin thrower Justin Arop rose to the occasion and for many years represented Uganda at the All-Africa Games, the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games, and the Olympic Games. In the process he broke the African (excluding RSA) record. Arop’s national record still stands, and he remains Uganda’s greatest individual field athlete. Amidst Uganda’s traditional orientation toward running, soccer, and boxing sports, Justin Arop’s remarkable performances have poorly been followed and documented, and have largely been ignored and unknown.

Arop’s remarkable athletic talent was evident when he was a teenager. In 1976, at the East and Central African Championships that were held in Zanzibar, 18 year-old Arop won the gold medal with a distance of 68.05m. Arop dethroned the long-time champion John Mayaka of Kenya who had also won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1974 held in Edinburgh with an Africa record throw of 77.56m. Let it be noted that during the years of the apartheid regime, superior athletic performances of white Africans of the Republic of South Africa were often internationally disregarded or excluded. At the forthcoming East and Central African Championships, Arop would again become the javelin champion (71.04m) in 1977 in Mogadishu in Somalia, in 1981 (74.94m) in Mombasa in Kenya, in 1982 (73.02m) in Cairo in Egypt, in 1985 in Cairo, in 1989 (69.94m) in Arusha in Tanzania, and in 1990 (66.50m) in Jinja in Uganda. In 1989, in the same Championships, the strong and agile Arop won gold with his shot putt throw of 13.15m. The Championships ended in 1990; they were briefly revived in 1995 as East African (Zone V) Championships, but they had lost their spark and were only held for three more years—in 2001, 2003, and 2005.

At the All-Africa Games of 1978, held in Algiers, Justin Arop won gold with a national record throw of 76.94 meters, excellently distant ahead of runner-up silver medallist Ali Memmi of Tunisia (71.28m), and bronze medallist John Mayaka (70.76m) of Kenya. The next venue of the All-Africa Games was Nairobi in Kenya in 1987, nearly 10 years after the Algiers 1978 venue. Arop ably defended his continental title, winning gold with a throw of 73.42m. A meter behind was silver medallist Zakayo Malekwa of Tanzania who was ahead of the bronze medallist George Odera (71.30m) of Kenya.

The 1985 African Championships in Athletics were held in Cairo from August 15th to 18th. Here, Arop’s best throw of 74.60m earned him the bronze medal behind gold medallist Ahmed Mahour Bacha (80.04m) of Algeria, and silver medallist Abu El Makarem El Hamd (75.30m) of Egypt. Arop’s was Uganda’s only medal at this venue; Uganda was 17th overall.

At the same African Championships in Athletics, this time held in Annaba in Algeria from in August 29th to September 2nd 1988, Justin Arop captured the gold in the javelin with a best final throw of 74.52m. The runners-up were Tarek Chaabani of Tunisia (67.50m), and Samir Menouar of Algeria (64.62m). The other gold medal win was by the women’s 4x400m team. Uganda was placed 8th overall.

At the 1990 African Championships in Athletics, held in Cairo from October 3rd to 6th, Arop won the javelin bronze medal with a length of 67.76m, quite close behind gold medallist Fidele Rakotonirina of Madagascar (69.50m), and silver medallist Pius Bazighe (68.80m) of Nigeria. Uganda’s only other medals won at this venue were by Edith Nakiyingi in the women’s 800m and 1500m runs. Uganda emerged 13th, overall.

Justin Arop is still the only track and field athlete to ever represent Uganda at three Olympic venues. Born on March 24th 1958 in the Acholi region of northern Uganda, Arop was 22 years old when he represented Uganda at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. He was the youngest Ugandan participant at the venue. In the Qualification Round of the javelin throw, that was contested on July 26th 1980, Arop’s best throw was amazing. His best distance was 82.68m—a new Uganda national record! It was also a new Africa (excluding RSA) record! Nevertheless, many of the javelin throwers were ahead of Arop–he was placed 8th and well behind the best Qualifying Round athlete Ferenec Paraqi of Hungary (88.76m). The requirement had been for the first twelve, plus any additional competitors who would throw more than 80 meters to qualify for the Final Round. Arop was the sole African finalist. Marius Corbett of the Republic of South Africa established the current Africa record, of 88.75 meters, in 1998.

The twelve Olympic finalists made their final throws on July 27th. With a best throw of 77.34m, including some fouls, Justin Arop’s ranking dropped to 12th, or last among the finalists. Unluckily, Arop’s final throw was 77.34m, more than 5 meters behind his record-breaking best throw in the qualifying rounds! The winners were gold medallist Dainis Kula (Soviet Union) with 91.20m, silver medallist Aleksandr Makarov (Soviet Union) with 89.64m, and Wolfgang Hanisch (East Germany) with a hurl of 86.72m.

On June 27th 1982, at a track and field Invitational in Durham on the Duke University campus in North Carolina–the “Lite Summer Games,” Arop won in the javelin event with a winning length of 84.58m, yet a new Uganda and Africa (outside of RSA) record. The audience was 13000-strong.

Among the many years that Justin Arop emerged javelin winner at the Uganda Athletic Championships were 1981 (75.90m), 1982 (68.30m), 1984 (64.17m), 1985 (65.22m), 1986 (74.10m), 1987 (65.23m), 1990 (64.48m), and 1991 (66.76m). Arop was also national shot putt champion in 1982 (14.24m), 1985 (13.20m), and 1986 (12.82m).

At the Olympics of 1984 that were held in August in Los Angeles, the challenge was for the top twelve javelin throwers plus all those who achieved at least 83 meters to advance to the Final Round. On August 4th, Arop’s performance amongst the athletes in the Group A Qualification Round was a far cry from his Olympic performance in Moscow in 1980. This time, Arop’s best throw of 69.76m was the worst among the 14 competitors in the Group. Arop was eliminated from advancing to the finals. In the end, Arop’s 69.76m distance placed him 27th overall, just ahead of last 28th and last-placed Mike O’Rourke of New Zealand whose outrageous fouling did not allow him to score at all. The other African competitor, Zakayo Malekwa of Tanzania, who Arop was competitively familiar with, was placed 19th overall.

On September 24th 1988, 30 year-old Arop at 6’1″ and nearly 200 lbs was ready to throw the javelin at his third Olympic appearance. This time the yardstick was for the first twelve and ties, and all those who had thrown to a distance of 79 meters to advance to the Final Round. There were two Qualification Round groups, and Arop was in Group B. Out of the 19 Group B competitors, Arop was placed 17th with a best throw of 69.10m. He therefore did not make it to the finals. In the end Arop was placed 33rd overall out of the 38 competitors. Curiously, Zakayo Malekwa, again the only other African competitor was placed 34th given his best throw of 67.56m. The winning Olympic medallists were Jan Zelezny of Czechoslovakia (85.90m, a new Olympic record), Seppo Raty of Finland (81.62m), and Tapio Korjus of Finland (81.42m).

On August 29th 1987, at the 2nd IAAF World Championships in Athletics held in Rome, out of the 37 contestants, Arop was eliminated in the qualification round after posting a best throw of 71.76 meters and finishing 14th. The medal-winning finalists were future Olympic medallist Seppo Raty of Finland (83.54m), Viktor Yevsyukov of the Soviet Union (82.52m), and future Olympic medallist Jan Zelezny of Czechoslovakia (82.20m). And in Ulm in West Germany at an athletics meet, Justin Arop hurled the javelin to 75.52 meters on August 6th 1988.

On January 3rd at the Commonwealth Games of 1990, held in Auckland in New Zealand, Arop’s best javelin attempt was 70.74m. It was the best among the African competitors in the event, but it would only afford him an 8th placed finals position. The medal winners were Englishmen Steve Backley (86.02m) and Mick Hill (83.32m), and New Zealander Gavin Lovegrove (81.66m).

Justin Arop was only 36 years old when he passed away in 1994. The Arop Memorial Championships, in his honor, were first held in Gulu in northern Uganda, at the Pece Stadium, in July 2006, September 2007, and April 2009. In April 2010, the family pleaded to the Uganda government to erect a school or a vocational institute in honor of Justin Arop. And again because Arop was a technician in a field sport that is not popular in Uganda, and because he died young, he was disabled from promoting his national gem worth, he became forgotten. Contrary to many Ugandan accounts, Arop’s gold medal win at the All-Africa Games in Algiers in 1976 was not an Africa record, though it was a new national record. And it would not be his best all-time javelin throw. Arop did break Africa’s (excluding RSA) javelin record during the Qualification Round (82.68m) at the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow; but his tosses were quite inferior in the finals competition for the medals. It was at the Lite Summer Games at the Duke University campus in Durham in North Carolina, in June 1982, that winning Arop hurled the javelin to his furthest. It was an Africa (excluding RSA) record and is still Uganda’s javelin record after three decades–84.58m.

Jonathan Musere

Mohamed Muruli: Uganda’s Commonwealth Games’ Double Boxing Gold Medallist

May 8, 2009

Born in Kichwamba in Kabarole, Uganda on July 14, 1947, 5’7″ tall Mohamed (Muhammad) Muruli remains among the most outstanding and respected of Ugandan boxers.

At the African Amateur Boxing Championships, held in Lusaka in Zambia in June 1968, Muruli ably displayed international promise, though in the finals he fell to legendary Kenyan Philip Waruinge of Kenya in the finals of the lightweight division; and therefore settled for the silver medal. Waruinge had also won gold in the Africa Boxing Championships held in Brazzaville in Congo in 1965. Among Waruinge’s other achievements were fighting for Kenya in three Olympics (1964, 1968, and 1972), the later in which he won bronze and silver, respectively. Partly out of disillusionment about the judging that he considered biased, Waruinge turned professional and fought in Osaka in Japan. He also won lightweight gold at the 1970 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh, in the finals outpointing Deogratias Musoke of Uganda. Within a couple of years later “Deo” Musoke died, allegedly from overstarving and overtraining, in his quest to maintain his boxing division weight limit.

Naturally, Waruinge is remembered as one of Uganda’s biggest boxing rivals. He was a common fixture in the frequent friendly boxing tournaments between Uganda and Kenya. On turning professional in Japan, Philip Waruinge became known as Waruinge Nakayama. He fought as a professional from 1973 to 1978, but his record, including losses in the quests for the world title and Japanese titles is mediocre (14 wins, 10 losses, and 1 draw).

It was at the Olympic Games of 1968 (October 12 – October 27) in Mexico City, that 21 year-old Muruli further displayed his international competence. Muruli would easily beat, by decision, the first two (South American) opponents that were in his path; firstly Luis Munoz of Chile (by 4-1), thereafter tall Armando Mendoza of Venezuela (by 5-0). Muruli’s next encounter, that with Ronald Woodson “Ronnie” (“Mazel”) Harris of the USA would not be as fulfilling. Skillful and 5’10” (quite tall for a lightweight) Harris thoroughly outpointed Muruli (5-0); and in eliminating Muruli allowed him to settle for a respectable 5th, just a breath away from bronze medal contention.

Harris would become the eventual gold medalist, in-like fashion heavily outpointing his east European (Romanian Calistrat Cutov [bronze], and thereafter Polish Józef Grudzien [silver]) both by 5-0. Interestingly, Gruzdien still in the same mass class as a lightweight, had won gold as a 25-year old at the previous 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Harris would turn professional in 1971, he remained undefeated until 1978. In 1978 he challenged Argentine Hugo Pastor Corro for the WBC/ WBA middleweight title, but lost by decision. Harris retired from boxing in August 1982, although he had won his last four bouts. Harris’ final tally as a professional is 35 wins (with 14 knockouts), 2 losses (1 knockout), 1 draw.

At the next major international contest…the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in Scotland from July 17-24 1970, Muruli had blossomed to light-welterweight, the division in which he represented Uganda. In the quarter finals, Muruli would outpoint Guyanese Reginald Forde. Next, the semi-finals involved hard-punching Muruli causing the referee to stop the contest with Ghanaian Odartey Lawson in the first round. In the finals, Muruli would beat Welsh Dave Davies by 3-2. Eventually, Muruli’s gold, together with golds by light-flyweight James Odwori and heavyweight Benson Masanda; together with silver medal wins by flyweight Leo Rwabwogo and lightweight Deogratias Musoke would for the first time establish Uganda as Commonwealth Games’ boxing champions; therefore a world boxing power to reckon with.

The next major international challenge for Muruli, came in June 1972 involving the Africa Amateur Championships held in Nairobi in Kenya. Still as a light-welterweight, in the finals, 25 year-old Muruli would beat 22 year-old future African Games’ champion and later Nigeria national boxing coach Obisia Nwakpa.

Muruli, given his astonishing record, would logically be included among Uganda’s Olympic boxer medal hopes for the summer Olympics of 1972 that were held in Munich in Germany. Unfortunately, Romanian Calistrat Cutov, the previous Olympic bronze-medalist, outpointed Muruli in the very first preliminary round!

Fortunately, again Mohamed Muruli was selected to represent Uganda in the next major international competition. It would be the prestigious Commonwealth Games, this time held in Christchurch in New Zealand from January 24-February 2, 1974. Again Muruli had moved up in weight, and this time would be representing Uganda as a welterweight at the limit of 67 kg. In the preliminary round, on January 26 1974, Muruli ably disposed of Caleb Okech of Kenya by points. Similarly, in the quarter-finals, Muruli beat Carmen Rinke of Canada by majority points. Next came the semi-finals, and Muruli outpointed Scottish Steven Cooney. The finals saw Muruli outpointing Errol McKenzie of Wales; thus establishing Muruli as Uganda’s only 2-time Commonwealth Games’ Gold-medalist. This record, as well as Muruli’s stance as one of the toughest and most renowned of Uganda’s amateur boxers, has remained intact for decades!

The next major outing for Muruli was the World Amateur Boxing Championships held in Havana in the last two weeks of August 1974. Welterweight Muruli did not fare well in this prestigious event. In the preliminary first round Muruli was knocked out in the third round by Kalevi Kosunen of Finland. Counterparts Ayub Kalule (gold medal winner) and Joseph Nsubuga (bronze medal winner) were the Ugandan trophy winners in the tournament.

At the African amateur Championships held in Kampala in Uganda in November 1974, Muruli represented Uganda as a light-middleweight. Muruli proved his worth and in the finals, he knocked out Ndom of Cameroun. Additional gold medals won by Ugandans James Odwori, Ayub Kalule, Vitalis Bbege, and Mustapha Wasajja, overwhelmingly cemented Uganda as the African amateur king! Thereafter, Muruli boxed sporadically, even became a Uganda Army Boxing team coach. He is not listed in the team that was scheduled to represent Uganda at the Olympics of 1976 that were held in Montreal in Canada. Uganda and many other countries boycotted these Games, for political reasons. Muruli did not join the professional ranks, but many renowned or promising Uganda boxers such as John Baker Muwanga, Ayub Kalule, Mustapha Wasajja, Cornelius Bbosa (Boza-Edwards), Joseph Nsubuga moved to Europe to join the professional ranks. Some battled to become world champions! As Africans increasingly became professionals, and as boxing rules became increasingly more protective of amateurs, amateur boxing would never be the same again.

Nevertheless, Mohamed Muruli, one of the most skillful and most dreaded of African boxers, consistently proved his worth. Muruli won numerous gold medals in both local and international bouts. And his record as the only Ugandan to win two Commonwealth Games’ boxing gold medals, still stands!

Muruli’s son in London, Muhamad Muruli Jr., confirmd that the Uganda boxer died in 1995 in Fort Portal in Kabarole District.

Jonathan Musere