Posts Tagged ‘John Akii-Bua’

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

May 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 1971 US-USSR-World All-Stars Track Meet at University of California, Berkeley: John Akii-Bua, Steve Prefontaine, Pat Matzdorf, Judith Ayaa, and Other Athletes

March 10, 2015

The US-USSR-World All-Stars Track and Field Meet took place on Saturday, July 3rd 1971, in Berkeley at the Edwards Stadium of University of California.


Very recently, on May 30th 1971, John Akii-Bua had commendably reduced the 400 meters-hurdles African record to 49.7 seconds in Kampala, and thereby gained a reasonably significant level of attention. But there was some skepticism about the timing and the track conditions, given that the event was contested on a somewhat unknown and unrecognized African track. Nevertheless, in Berkeley, 21 year-old policeman Akii was considered a major contender for the gold medal. The other two favorites were Wes Williams who was regarded as USA’s top contenders, and Russia’s Vyacheslav Skomorokhov. Williams had at the recent national AAU championships finished second in the 440 yards-hurdles  (which is four yards longer than the metric lap) in an impressive 49.3; while  Skomorokhov who finished fifth in the foregone 1968 Olympics had a 49.1 personal best in the intermediate hurdles.

Eventually, Akii-Bua of Uganda, representing  the World, won (50.1), second was University of Washington’s Jim Seymour (USA) in 50.5, Roger Johnson (World) was third (50.9), Vyacheslav Skomorokhov (USSR) was fourth (50.9), fifth was Wes Williams (51.0) of USA, followed by Yuriy Zorin (USSR) in 53.3.

Akii-Bua’s remarks are mentioned (AP 1971: 19).

“I have been practicing hurdles with both…right…and left leg. I think those who hurdle with only one leg aren’t versatile enough…. I don’t have any set plan to run so many steps in between the hurdles. I just go over them when I get there.”

In the men’s 4x400m relay the USA team (Edesel Garrison, Frederick Newhouse, Tommie Turner, Darwin Bond) triumphed (3:02.9); the World’s team (Alfred Daley, John Akii-Bua, Laighton Priestley, Garth Case) was second (3:08.4); while the USSR team (Boris Savchuk, Yuriy Zorin, Dimitriy Stuklaov, Semyon Kocher) was last.

Judith Ayaa of Uganda, representing the World, participated in the women’s 4x400m relay. This time, the USSR team won (3:36.0). The Soviet runners were Lyudmila Findgenova, Lyudmila Aksenova, Natalya Chistyakova, and Nadyezhda Kolesnikova.  Second an in 3:38.1 was the USA team (Esther Stroy, Gwen Norman, Cheryl Toussaint, and Jarvis Scott). Finishing third in 3:44.1 was the World all-Stars team of Ayaa, Penny Werther, Allison Ross-Edwards, and Yvonne Sanders.

Major highlights at the international track meet included the setting of a new world record in the high jump (7 feet, 6.25 inches) by University of Wisconsin’s Pat Matzdorf (USA); and a new national record in the 5000m (13:30.4) by USA’s Steve Prefontaine (University of Oregon).

Overall in points, the USA won, USSR was second, and the World All-Stars team was third.

Works Cited

AP (July 14, 1971) “For America-Russian Track Duel: U.S. Runners Weren’t Ready,” in “Odessa American.”

Jonathan Musere

Vitus Ashaba, Judith Ayaa, John Akii-Bua: Presence at the 1972 Hanns-Braun Pre-Olympics Invitational Meet in Munich

December 23, 2014

A Pre-Olympic Meet in 1972, a tune-up for the upcoming Olympics, took place in Munich in West Germany in mid-August. Elite athletes from many countries, arrived in Munich approximately ten days before the 1972 Olympics, to participate. The track-and-field meet that spanned two days is also dubbed the “Hanns-Braun Memorial International Pre-Olympic Invitational.” The Ugandan athletes that would commendably perform well were hurdler, sprinter and former decathlon athlete John Akii-Bua; sprinter Judith Ayaa, and steeplechaser and middle-distance runner Vitus Ashaba.

The competition began. 22 year-old Akii-Bua, perhaps relaxing and bidding his time in cautiously avoiding the dangerous hurdling in which athletes are quite injury-prone, settled for the 400m flat, other than his 400 meters-hurdles specialization.

Most of the top results at the Invitational were published in the “Oakland Tribune” (1972: 44)

The men’s 400 meters’ lap involved four heats, and the best overall times were signified. Overall in performance, Akii was placed third (46.18) behind top finisher Fred Newhouse of the USA (45.47), and second-placed was Kenyan legend, Charles Asati (45.77). Fourth overall was Horst Schlbske (West Germany) in 46.25, and fifth was Leighton Priestley (Jamaica) in 46.30.

Surprisingly, up to this time, although he had longed to, Akii had never competed with 400 meters-hurdles USA champion and national record-holder Ralph Mann. The barrier race involving the two was inevitably eagerly anticipated. Ralph Mann was slightly ahead of Akii-Bua in terms of personal best performance in the intermediate hurdles. Akii-Bua was reasonably familiar to the track community in the USA where he won in all the numerous 400mh events that he had so far competed in during 1971 and 1972. Akii was regarded by the Americans as Ralph Mann’s main rival at the 1972 summer Olympics. In the August 1972 issue of “Sports Illustrated,” it was predicted that at these forthcoming Olympics, Akii would win in the 400mh, Ralph Mann would be second, and that Kenya’s William Koskei who had won a silver medal for Uganda at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (Akii finished fourth) would win the Olympic bronze.

Eventually, in the 400 meters-hurdles at this meet, Ralph Mann won in 49.85, James Seymour (USA) finished second (50.02), third was William Koskei (Kenya) in 50.46, fourth was Mike Murey (Kenya)  in 50.42, and fifth was Richard Bruggeman (USA) in 50.63.

Judith Ayaa, aged 20, competed among the three heats of the women’s 400m at this pre-Olympic invitational. The best overall performances were signified. Overall, Ayaa’s performance was second best and she posted 52.68 which equaled the Africa record that she had established during the semi-finals of the event at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1970.

Yvonne Saunders (Jamaica) was the fastest 400m sprinter (52.34), third after Ayaa was Nadeshda Kolesnikova (Soviet Union) in 52.90, fourth was Karoline Kaefer (Australia) in 52.98, fifth was Penny Hunt (New Zealand) in 53.31.

The other Ugandan who performed quite well at the invitational was 29 year-old Vitus Ashaba. He finished fifth in the 3000 meters-steeplechase and his time of 8:50.08 was a new Uganda national record. In an event that has for decades been dominated by Kenyans, legendary Benjamin Jipcho (Kenya) won in 8:27.43, 1968 Olympic champion Amos Biwott (Kenya) was second in 8:30.70, third was 32 year-old legendary Kipchoge Keino (Kenya) who was quite new to this event (8:32.70), fourth was Werner Schuman (West Germany) in 8:45.89.

Weeks later, the ever versatile Keino would win the steeplechase gold at the Olympics, ahead of Jipcho and Biwott, in a new Olympic record. Ashaba would improve on his Uganda record by five seconds

Other elite competitors at the sports meet included sprinters Valeri Borzov (Russia) and Lennox Miller (Jamaica), and middle-distance runner Mike Boit (Kenya).

Works Cited

Associated Press. “U.S. 400 Quartet Eyes 38.5,” in “Oakland Tribune” (August 16, 1972).

Jonathan Musere

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

November 18, 2014

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: Attempt to Smash the Hurdles World Record and the Renaming of Stanley Road

November 30, 2013

John Akii-Bua of Uganda was promoted by the dictator Idi Amin Dada to Assistant Inspector of the Police Force and the main Kampala road named after renowned Welsh-American adventurer-soldier-explorer-journalist Henry Morton Stanley was re-named by the dictator to “Akii-Bua Road.” This was only months after Akii had reduced the 400 meters-hurdles world record to 47.82 seconds at the Olympics in Munich in early September 1972. Among many other things, Henry Stanley is renowned for exalting Uganda as the “Pearl of Africa.” Indeed, Henry Stanley would quite often declare or imply that he was the very first to attach the term to Uganda.

“…’Pearl of Africa’….I applied that…term to Uganda…. Many…travelers…account for the term by adducing the fertility of the soil and the variety of its products; but the truth is that the term aptly illustrates the superior value of Uganda because of its populousness, the intelligence of its people, its strategic position for commerce, and for spreading Christianity–all of which make it pre-eminently a desirable colony for a trading and civilizing nation like ours [England]” (Stanley 1895: 719-720).

In January 1973, 23 year-old Akii-Bua, still fresh out of Munich and still heavily celebrated nationally, was now in Nigeria in the face of an excited high capacity crowd ready to witness the performance of the first African to ever win and establish a world track record in such a technical and grueling event. The VIPs who attended the track event included Nigeria’s president General Yakubu Gowon. The 400 meters-hurdles that requires speed, timing, and jumping over is still referred to as the “man-killer.”

On January 11th in Lagos at the Second All-Africa Games, in a 400mh semi-final heat, a relaxed Akii took his time and still won in 50.7. He was very confident that, despite the absence of the top world class competitors that he had faced at the Olympics, he would have actually broken his own world record if he had given it the effort and the technique. He remarked, “I ran six hurdles with a 13-strides pattern and then cut down to 14-15 strides in the last 200 meters…at full speed, I would have broken the 48 seconds mark” (AAP-Reuters: 1973).

Akii-Bua would also state that he had learned so much about technique and perfectly timing the hurdles from his encouraging friend and hurdling ace David (Dave) Hemery of Britain who is regarded as one of the best hurdlers ever. In 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico City, Hemery established a world record (48.12) in the finals of the 400mh. Hemery finished nearly a second ahead of the silver medallist Gerhard Hennige of West Germany. Hemery was third at the Olympics in Munich. In Lagos, Akii also told that he was struck with malaria, six months before the Olympics in Munich (AAP-Reuters: 1973).

The finals’ lineup for the 400mh in Lagos notably included William (Bill) Koskei of Kenya who as an immigrant had competed for Uganda and notably won a silver medal in the event at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh. Akii was fourth then. But in 1971 in Durham in North Carolina at a USA vs Africa meet, Akii in winning beat Koskei and others and established a world-leading time of 49 seconds. It was then that the athletics world eyed the apparently relaxed and smooth-sailing hurdler Akii-Bua as a top contender for the gold in the forthcoming Olympics in Munich. Koskei was also regarded as an Olympic medal hope, but he would in Munich finish fourth in the first round heat, and thereby be eliminated. Akii, on the other hand, won in all his three heats, including the finals in which he set a world record.

Unlike the Munich Olympics in which Akii was drawn in the disadvantageous innermost “tight” lanes, in Lagos at the finals, he was placed in a middle lane–which is easier to navigate through. The gun went off in Lagos and Akii burst out fast. He seemed to slightly relax and slow down after the last corner, then suddenly pick up speed. Days later, Akii would remark that he indeed slowed down but that when he looked up in the stands at the jubilant and colorful uniformed dignitaries that included the Nigerian President Gowon, he decided to run faster. He did not have to since he was well ahead of the rest of the field. Akii-Bua won in an amazing 48.54 seconds. Though Akii had not attained his lofty goal of obliterating his own world record, the time would be the world’s best in the 400mh in 1973, and it remains among the best ever ran on African soil. Nearly two seconds behind, William Koskei was second (50.22) in a photo-finish with Silver Ayoo (50.25) of Uganda who won the bronze medal.

Overall, Uganda was fourth at the All-Africa Games in Lagos, and that performance in which the nation won many medals (exclusively in track-and-field and boxing) is still Uganda’s best ever at these Games. Uganda ended up with 8 gold medals, 6 silver medals, and 6 bronze medals, placing Uganda fourth overall behind Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, respectively.

 

Works Cited

AAP-Reuters. “Ugandan Plans Attempt at World Time.” Canberra Times. January 12, 1973.

Stanley, H. M. “Uganda Railway.” The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. Vol. 79 (1895): 719-720.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua, Teddy Sondota Ruge, and Uganda’s Top National Performances in the Decathlon

July 28, 2013

On the Saturday of October 9th 1971, precisely on Uganda’s eighth Independence Day Anniversary celebration from the political gropes of the British, John Akii-Bua broke Uganda’s national decathlon record. Akii-Bua is most renowned for his Munich 1972 summer Olympics gold medal in world record time (47.82), but it escapes most people that his decathlon performance on Independence day still officially holds as the national decathlon record. Akii’s 6933 decathlon points on that day also became Africa’s decathlon record. The record is validated by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).

The decathlon is a 10-event competition spread over two days. The events are the 100 and 400 meter sprints, the long jump, shot put, high jump, 110 meters-hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the 1500 meters metric mile.

Larbi Bouraada of Algeria established an Africa record (8332 points) in 2012 in Ratingen. He was stripped of that record when he tested positively for a banned substance. But his earlier African record (8302 points) in the same city on July 17th  2011, still stands recognized as the Africa record. The latest decathlon world record (9039 points) was established on July 23rd 2012 by the Oregonian Ashton Eaton in Eugene in his home state at the USA Olympic trials.

Akii-Bua was an enthusiastic and versatile athletic jack-of-all-trades who delved in a variety of sports. Apart from the track and field events, he also played soccer; and did not even start hurdling until he was 17 and was in the national police force at Nsambya near Kampala. Jorem Ochana, a police officer who held the 440 yards-hurdles Africa record was the police coach. A year later Akii impressively ran the 110 meters-hurdles in 14.3. He was soon placed under the guidance of the new national coach Malcolm Arnold from Britain. Arnold encouraged Akii-Bua to concentrate on the hurdles where his niche seemed to be and partly because of his stamina was advanced to the 400 meters-hurdles.

In the era of Akii-Bua, the decathlon was meagerly and rarely contested or trained for in Africa. Though he started seriously competing in sports during his late teens, multi-talented Akii-Bua and well-built Akii established a trail-blazing lead of inspiration for many athletes of Uganda and beyond. His record-breaking decathlon performance on the Kampala grass track in October 1971 included 100 meters in 10.9, 400 meters in 47.2, the long jump in 6.65 meters (21′ 94/5″), and the high jump in 1.90 meters which is 6′ 24/5″ (Editions Rencontre S.A. : 1978). In the previous year at the Commonwealth Games (1970) in Edinburgh, his fourth place finish in the 400 meters-hurdles while injured, had given Akii a dose of confidence. In 1971, John Akii-Bua would establish the world leading time of 49 seconds in the 400 meters-hurdles. He seemed to be unstoppable! And it was a major improvement from the previous all-Africa record of 49.7 that 20 year-old Akii had established in June 1971.

The next notable Ugandan performer in the decathlon is Teddy Sondota-Ruge (Teddy Sondota) who had studied at the University of North Texas and established a personal best of 6809 points in Dallas on June 1st 2003. 11.84 in the 100 meters, 6.20 meters in the long jump, 11.53 meters in the shot put, 1.92 meters in the high jump, 52.19 in the 400 meters, 15.09 in the 110 meters-hurdles, 37.94 meters in the discus, 4.37 meters in the pole vault, 58.01 meters in the javelin, 4:57.42 in the 1500 meters. Ruge still holds the Uganda national record in the pole vault: 4:57 meters established in Abilene in Texas on May 15th 1997.

At the eighth All-Africa Games held in Abuja in Nigeria near the end of 2003, Teddy Sondota finished fifth in the decathlon (6476 points). His performances were: 11.74 (100m), 6.48m (long jump), 12.50m (shot put), 1.85m (high jump), 53.52 (400m), 15.09 (110 meters-hurdles), 39.72m (discus), 4.00m (pole vault), 51.82m (javelin), 5:33.56 (1500m).

Works Cited

Editions Rencontre S.A. (1978) “For J. Akii-Bua (UGA), Hurdles are no Obstacle to Continuing Success”: Lausanne Photos Werek Syndication International, Italy.

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).

Pan Africa Games in North Carolina, 1971: John Akii-Bua Shatters Africa Record and is Declared a Major Contender for Olympic Gold

January 16, 2013

Introduction 

The capacity crowd of 34000 (two-day total was 52000) at Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham in North Carolina, attending the USA-Pan Africa track-and-field meet (sometimes referred to as USA versus the World meet), was then the largest ever to attend a track meet in the United States’ South (southeastern) region. The July 16-17, 1971 meet was the area’s first international competition. A unified African team together with other nations (14 nations altogether) versus a USA team was a unique and unprecedented event. The onlookers became the largest and most jubilant track audience in 1971. The selected 38 African athletes included Olympic legends Charles Asati, Mohamed Gamoudi, Kipchoge Keino, and Amos Biwott.

John Akii-Bua 

In the 400 meters-hurdles, the results were: John Akii-Bua, Uganda (49.0); Melvin Bassett, a local resident of Durham (50.7); William Koskei, Kenya (51.2); Ron Rondeau, Miami, FL (52.9).

William “Bill” Koskei who as an immigrant had previously competed for Uganda and had in the intermediate hurdles won the silver medal for Uganda at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, returned to Kenya soon after Idi Amin’s tumultuous January 1971 coup d’etat. An injured Akii-Bua who had finished fourth at the same Commonwealth venue, now in Durham proved to be Africa’s top 400mh athlete. Akii-Bua in slicing a full second off the Africa record, and establishing a world-leading time of the year, had also astoundingly beaten the runner up Rondeau by nearly two seconds! And all this in high summer temperatures (upper 80’s to lower 90’s Fahrenheit), high humidity, and on a recently resurfaced track. After African’s had won five track gold medals at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, rumors and suspicions had surfaced that Africans were advantaged by the high-altitude conditions that they were supposedly accustomed to. But the Durham meet of a low-altitude environment proved that weather conditions were not major factors in African athletes triumphing against those of other nations.

Eventually, 20 year-old up-and-coming John Akii-Bua of Uganda became the only African to establish a significant record at the meet and after the 400 meters-hurdles victory he even considered enrolling at North Carolina Central University where he would perhaps work with renowned black American athletics coach Leroy T. Walker and also further his athletics ambitions at Wallace Wade Stadium. Akii was an anomaly in that he was a short-distance runner among the overwhelmingly middle- and long distance-running African athletes at the meet. He gained the recognition.

“Akii-Buwa [sic], a policeman from Uganda, set an African record of 49.0 in winning the second gold medal for the African men. His time was also the world’s best mark this year, and after watching his flawless hurdling form, American and African track officials predicted he will be a strong contender for a gold medal in Munich next year”  (Associated Press: 1971).

But such heartening comments regarding Akii-Bua’s victory in this technical event that was rarely associated with Africans on the international scale were rare, and the media mainly concentrated on Africa’s prowess in the middle and long distances. The turning a blind eye to and the making of Akii-Bua’s performance seem less significant was the notable absence from the competition of the American champion Ralph Mann (another Olympic medal prospect) who would have ably challenged Akii-Bua. Mann was competing in Europe.

Kipchoge Keino and Others’ Results

Media accolades overlooked Akii-Bua, heaping praises on Kenyan victors and legends Kipchoge Keino, Robert Ouko, and Ben Jipcho; and on Ethiopian long-distance runner Miruts Yifter who had won in the 10000m, but had dropped out of the 5000m at the end of the penultimate lap while leading, in thinking that it was the last lap. The 10000m witnessed diminutive 5’2″ Yifter finishing in 28:53.1, followed by Frank Shorter (28:53.9) of Florida Track Club, third was Gary Bjorklund (30:05.3) of Minnesota, and fourth was Ethiopia’s Wahib Nasrech (30:34.3).

In the 1500m, Kenya’s Kipchoge Keino, attempting to crush the world record (with the help of 800m Kenyan runner Naftali Bon running as a driving rabbit), moved nearly a quarter of a lap away from the top challenging pursuers, winning in 3:37.5, ahead of runner up and fellow countryman Benjamin Wabura Jipcho (3:43.9) who had won the 3000 meters-steeplechase just an hour earlier! Third in the 1500m was US Army’s Jim Crawford (3:48.0), fourth was John Baker (3:55.2) of Sports International. Africa’s 3000m steeplechase record holder Jipcho had won in 8:45.2, twenty meters ahead of Oregon Track Club’s Mike Manley (8:48.3), Sid Sink (9:00.2) of Ohio placed third, and Muhammad Yohanes (9:06.2) of Ethiopia.

In the 800m, Kenya’s Robert Ouko won in 1:46.7, a meter ahead of Juris Luzins of US Marines; with Ken Swenson (USA record holder) of the US Army placed third. Ouko would enroll in North Carolina Central University, he would be coached by legendary African American Leroy T. Walker who became the first black to coach a United States men’s Olympic track team and to serve as president of the United States Olympic Committee. Walker died in Durham, in April 2012, aged 93. At the 1972 Olympic Games, Robert Ouko would be fourth in the 800m and be part of the 4x400m Kenya Olympic gold medal winning team. Julius Sang, also part of Kenya’s gold-winning team was also enrolled at NCCU alongside Ouko

Some other notable winners at the meet included USA’s John Smith (Southern California Striders) who triumphed in both the 200m (20.7) and 400m (45.7); Rayleane Boyle (23.1) of Australia in the 200m ahead of runner-up and African legend Alice Annum (23.2) of Ghana.

Overall, the USA men’s team beat the visiting teams by 111-78, and the USA women overwhelmingly won easily.

Works Cited 

Associated Press. “Pan African Games Close,” in “The Robesonian” (July 18, 1971).

Jonathan Musere

Pan Africa Games–North Carolina, 1971: John Akii-Bua is Declared a Major Contender for an Olympic Gold Medal

January 14, 2013

Introduction

The capacity crowd of 34000 (two-day total was 52000) at Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham in North Carolina, attending the USA-Pan Africa track-and-field meet (sometimes referred to as USA versus the World meet), was then the largest ever to attend a track meet in the United States’ South (southeastern) region. The July 16-17, 1971 meet was the area’s first international competition. A unified African team together with other nations (14 nations altogether) versus a USA team was a unique and unprecedented event. The onlookers became the largest and most jubilant track audience in 1971. The selected 38 African athletes included Olympic legends Charles Asati, Mohamed Gamoudi, Kipchoge Keino, and Amos Biwott.

John Akii-Bua

In the 400 meters-hurdles, the results were: John Akii-Bua, Uganda (49.0); Melvin Bassett, a local resident of Durham (50.7); William Koskei, Kenya (51.2); Ron Rondeau, Miami, FL (52.9).

William “Bill” Koskei who as an immigrant had previously competed for Uganda and had in the intermediate hurdles won the silver medal for Uganda at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, returned to Kenya soon after Idi Amin’s tumultuous January 1971 coup d’etat. An injured Akii-Bua who had finished fourth at the same Commonwealth venue, now in Durham proved to be Africa’s top 400mh athlete. Akii-Bua in slicing a full second off the Africa record, and establishing a world-leading time of the year, had also astoundingly beaten the runner up Rondeau by nearly two seconds! And all this in high summer temperatures (upper 80’s to lower 90’s Fahrenheit), high humidity, and on a recently resurfaced track. After African’s had won five track gold medals at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, rumors and suspicions had surfaced that Africans were advantaged by the high-altitude conditions that they were supposedly accustomed to. But the Durham meet of a low-altitude environment proved that weather conditions were not major factors in African athletes triumphing against those of other nations.

Eventually, 20 year-old up-and-coming John Akii-Bua of Uganda became the only African to establish a significant record at the meet and after the 400 meters-hurdles victory he even considered enrolling at North Carolina Central University where he would perhaps work with renowned black American athletics coach Leroy T. Walker and also further his athletics ambitions at Wallace Wade Stadium. Akii was an anomaly in that he was a short-distance runner among the overwhelmingly middle- and long distance-running African athletes at the meet. He gained the recognition.

“Akii-Buwa [sic], a policeman from Uganda, set an African record of 49.0 in winning the second gold medal for the African men. His time was also the world’s best mark this year, and after watching his flawless hurdling form, American and African track officials predicted he will be a strong contender for a gold medal in Munich next year”  (Associated Press: 1971).

But such heartening comments regarding Akii-Bua’s victory in this technical event that was rarely associated with Africans on the international scale were rare, and the media mainly concentrated on Africa’s prowess in the middle and long distances. The turning a blind eye to and the making of Akii-Bua’s performance seem less significant was the notable absence from the competition of the American champion Ralph Mann (another Olympic medal prospect) who would have ably challenged Akii-Bua. Mann was competing in Europe.

Kipchoge Keino and Other Results

Media accolades overlooked Akii-Bua, heaping praises on Kenyan victors and legends Kipchoge Keino, Robert Ouko, and Ben Jipcho; and on Ethiopian long-distance runner Miruts Yifter who had won in the 10000m, but had dropped out of the 5000m at the end of the penultimate lap while leading, in thinking that it was the last lap. The 10000m witnessed diminutive 5’2″ Yifter finishing in 28:53.1, followed by Frank Shorter (28:53.9) of Florida Track Club, third was Gary Bjorklund (30:05.3) of Minnesota, and fourth was Ethiopia’s Wahib Nasrech (30:34.3).

In the 1500m, Kenya’s Kipchoge Keino, attempting to crush the world record (with the help of 800m Kenyan runner Naftali Bon running as a driving rabbit), moved nearly a quarter of a lap away from the top challenging pursuers, winning in 3:37.5, ahead of runner up and fellow countryman Benjamin Wabura Jipcho (3:43.9) who had won the 3000 meters-steeplechase just an hour earlier! Third in the 1500m was US Army’s Jim Crawford (3:48.0), fourth was John Baker (3:55.2) of Sports International. Africa’s 3000m steeplechase record holder Jipcho had won in 8:45.2, twenty meters ahead of Oregon Track Club’s Mike Manley (8:48.3), Sid Sink (9:00.2) of Ohio placed third, and Muhammad Yohanes (9:06.2) of Ethiopia.

In the 800m, Kenya’s Robert Ouko won in 1:46.7, a meter ahead of Juris Luzins of US Marines; with Ken Swenson (USA record holder) of the US Army placed third. Ouko would enroll in North Carolina Central University, he would be coached by legendary African American Leroy T. Walker who became the first black to coach a United States men’s Olympic track team and to serve as president of the United States Olympic Committee. Walker died in Durham, in April 2012, aged 93. At the 1972 Olympic Games, Robert Ouko would be fourth in the 800m and be part of the 4x400m Kenya Olympic gold medal winning team. Julius Sang, also part of Kenya’s gold-winning team was also enrolled at NCCU alongside Ouko

Some other notable winners at the meet included USA’s John Smith (Southern California Striders) who triumphed in both the 200m (20.7) and 400m (45.7); Rayleane Boyle (23.1) of Australia in the 200m ahead of runner-up and African legend Alice Annum (23.2) of Ghana.

Overall, the USA men’s team beat the visiting teams by 111-78, and the USA women overwhelmingly won easily.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Pan African Games Close,” in “The Robesonian” (July 18, 1971).