Posts Tagged ‘Kipchoge Keino’

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

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Vitus Ashaba: Olympic Performance of Uganda’s Middle-Distance Champion and Steeplechaser

July 3, 2014

In the late August of 1972, Uganda middle-distance champion and steeplechaser Vitus Ashaba aged 29, flew to Munich with the crop of Ugandan athletes and boxers to represent the nation at the Olympics in Germany. Also registered to compete in both the 1500 meters and the 3000 meters steeplechase were legendary Kenyan Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino, and the then unheralded future Tanzanian legend Filbert Bayi Sanka. One of the most anticipated Olympic 1500m duels would be that between “Kip” Keino and America’s greatest high school and national middle-distance runner James “Jim” Ryun who held the world-record.

Four years earlier at the Olympics in high-altitude and -heat Mexico City, a somewhat sickly and tired but not intimidated Keino, had against doctor’s advice persevered and used team tactics with training-partner Benjamin Wabura Jipcho to initially tire fellow competitors and then finally run away to win the 1500m gold in Olympic record time (3:34.91). It became too late for eventual silver-medallist Ryun (3:37.89) to catch up, and at the finishing line he trailed 20 meters behind Keino.

A 50th anniversary milestone was recently celebrated, as Jim Ryun reflected on the 3:58.3 national high school record in the mile that he established on May 15th 1965, at the Kansas State High School Meet at Wichita State University’s Cessna Stadium. It was also a new Kansas State record. Further, the 3:58.3 still stands as the record in a mile-race that included only high school students. Earlier on in 1964 Ryun, as a junior, still at East High School, had become the first national high school student to break the 4-minute barrier–3:59. And even more, in San Diego at the American open championships in early June 1965, 18 year-old Ryun still in high school, established a new American record (3:55.3) as he shocked the world by holding off New Zealand legend and triple Olympic gold-medallist Peter Snell. As a national high-school record, the 3:55.3 would stand for nearly four decades until Virginian Alan Webb’s 3:53.43 on May 27th 2001 at the Oregon Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Ryun started taking competitive athletics seriously only a couple of years before he started establishing the many middle-distance records that would include world records established in 1967 in the 1500m (3:33.1; Compton-Los Angeles) and the mile (3:51:1; Bakersfield, CA). Ryun as a youngster had been rejected by youth basketball, baseball, and even track teams. But devout Ryun had the faith in church and God, and humbly prayed for fruition in life. Jim Ryun’s shoulders were broad and bony, his knees were long and bony, all on a 6’2″ lanky 165 lb frame. Perhaps his biggest drawback was his vulnerability to bouts of sickness and physical injuries. At the 1968 Olympics when 21 year-old Ryun lost to 28 year-old Kip Keino, he had recently suffered a mild bout of mononucleosis that had placed a question mark on whether he would compete in Mexico City.

The relatively lanky Ugandan Vitus Ashaba (5’8″, 130Ib) was placed to run the Olympics 3000 meters-steeplechase in Heat One of four preliminary heats of the first round on September 1st 1972. This first round also included both Africans 32 year-old Kip Keino and 19 year-old Filbert Bayi who would also compete in the 1500m. Tapio Kantanen of Finland, aged 23, won (8:24.8) in a new Olympic record. Keino finishing second (8:27.6), together with 24 year-old Takaharu Koyama of Japan (8:29.8), also qualified for the next round which would be the finals. But though Bayi who finished ninth (8:41.4) and Ashaba who finished tenth (8:45.0) would not move on to the finals, both times were Tanzania and Uganda national records. And the 8:45.0 would forever be Ashaba’s personal best. It would further be intriguing that in the fourth heat on the same day, Kenya’s Amos Biwott, who had won the Olympic gold four years earlier in Mexico City, would win and reduce the Olympic record to 8:23.73 within a couple of hours. On September 7th, Kipchoge Keino, running in an event he had rarely competed in, would surprisingly win the Olympic gold in the steeplechase in a new Olympic record (8:23.64). This was his second Olympic gold simultaneous with Olympic records! Kipchoge had initially planned to compete in both the 1500m and 5000m, but the Olympic schedule of 1972 would have made that very difficult. Also, only 32 year-old Julio Faustino Quevedo Elias of Guatemala, at only a couple of months older than Keino was older than him amongst the male steeplechase competitors of  the Munich Olympics. Filbert Bayi Sanka, who would beat Keino in the 1500m at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos in January 1973, was the youngest among the 1972 Olympic steeplechasers. Second in the finals was legendary Kenyan Ben Jipcho (8:24.62), and the bronze medallist was Finn Tapio Kantanen (8:24.66).

Ashaba hoped for better results in the 1500m. Here, there would be a first round of heats on September 8th, the qualified would move on to the two semi-final heats held on September 9th; and the finals would be on September 10th. The First Round consisted of seven heats whereby the first finishers in each heat, together with the next two overall fastest would move on to the semi-finals. Ashaba was placed in Heat Four which included Keino and Ryun. This would turn out to be the fastest heat among the preliminary rounds. The race began, and as typically, Ryun bided his time to wait for an outburst near the end of the race.  But it was not to be. About a lap before the end of the race, and accident between Ashaba, Ryun and Ghanaian William “Billy” Fordjour who were running in close proximity happened (Associated Press 1972). Ashaba’s heal was clipped by Ryun who ended up colliding and falling with the Ghanaian. Ashaba got away, though slowed down. It is not clear who caused the accident, but it seems to have been an accidental collision among runners in very close proximity. Many blame Ryun for the accident. Ryun blamed Ashaba. It was too late for Ryun to catch up in such a short race.

Keino won (3:39.97), and alongside Rod Dixon of New Zealand (3:40.03), Gunnar Ekman of Sweden (3:40.40), Klaus-Peter Justus of East Germany (3:40.44), and Gianni Del Buono of Sweden (3:40.78) were the semi-finalists of Heat Four. Ashaba was 8th, but still managed to establish his personal best and new Uganda national record–3:45.2.  Ryun finished 9th (3:51.5), and Fordjour last (4:08:2). Keino consoled his arch-nemesis. Ryun blamed Ashaba for the accident, and appealed for reinstatement. His appeal did not achieve fruition, and that ended Ryun’s run at the Olympics. As for Vitus Ashaba, the international sports world would mostly remember him for the accident with Jim Ryun.

Keino would move on to the semi-final round which included three heats on September 9th. He won in the second heat. Heat One had been won by fellow-countryman Mike Boit. On September 10th, at the finals, Keino was overtaken and upstaged near the end of the race by the Finn Pekka Vasala who won the gold (3:36.33). Disappointed Keino was second (3:36.81), Rod Dixon won the bronze (3:37.46), and 23 year-old legendary Michael Kipsubut “Mike” Boit who had won the 800m Olympic bronze on September 2nd was fourth (3:38.41).

Not much was heard about Vitus Ashaba after the Olympics of 1972. He died in 1985, in his early forties, and was survived by widow Joy Namata and five offspring–Dorothy Nshemereirwe, Gerald Mugume, Julius Barinjura, Humphrey Tumushabe, and Chris Tunanukye. Ashaba was interred at his ancestral home in Kyegwisha Village in Ibanda District, in Uganda.

Works Cited

Associated Press. “Accident Brings Ryun Bid to End,” in “Spokane Daily Chronicle” (September 8, 1972).

Jonathan Musere

 

 

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).

Naftali Temu: The First Kenyan Olympic Gold Medallist

May 11, 2011

The runner Naftali Nabiba Temu who competed with his older legendary friend, idol, nemesis and fellow countryman Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino, is most significantly renowned for being the first ever Kenyan Olympic gold medallist. During the 1968 Olympic Games that were held in Mexico City, Naftali Temu not only won this gold medal in the 10000 meter run, but was cemented in history as the very first athlete to be crowned with a gold medal at these Olympics. Back home from Mexico, the Kenya athletes were sporting sombreros as they walked from the plane at Nairobi International Airport. A beaming Keino walked with the slender Temu sitting comfortably on his shoulders.

At 5’9″ and less than 140 pounds, Naftali Temu was noticeably lean and diminutive. He strode easily and relaxedly. Of the east African Kisii (Gusii) ethnic group, Temu was born in the northern Kisii District of Nyamira in Nyanza Province in southwestern Kenya on April 20, 1945. Temu did not start running competitively until he was in his early teens. But Temu lived in hilly terrain where he herded cattle and often ran long distances as part of fulfilling domestic duties and going to school. With an elementary school education, Temu left school and became a soldier in the Kenya Army.

A milestone in promising Temu’s athletics’ career came in the East African Championships (originally contested by Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania). The Championships were held in Kisumu in Kenya in 1964. Temu’s gold medal win was in the 10000m, in 28:35.7. During August 1964, 19 year-old Temu, also in Kisumu, won in the six miles in 28:30.4. This confirmed him as second on the world-junior ranking, and also inclusion in the Kenya Olympics’ team that would be bound for Tokyo in two months.

It was in 1964 (October 10 – 24) that, for the first time in history, an Asian country Japan hosted the Olympics. These Games held in Tokyo were Temu’s first significant opportunity at an international competition. Temu would go on to even represent Kenya at the next two Olympic gatherings along with compatriot Kip Keino. In Tokyo ’64, Temu was only 19, promising but young and inexperienced. He was entered for the 10,000 meters and the marathon. In the 10,000 meters’ finals, only one runner–Gerry Lindgren (aged 18) of the United States–was younger than Temu. Future world-record holder Lindgren would finish 9th, slowed down by a sprained ankle. Many consider Lindgren the greatest of American high school long-distance runners. Temu was unfortunately one of the nine out of 38 competitors that did not finish the race, on October 14. Nevertheless this final proved to be one of the most exciting in the history of the distance. In a photo-finish, the surprise winner was Billy Mills (future world-record holder) of the United States who edged out legendary Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia and gold medal hope Ron Clarke of Australia. Renowned Ethiopian runner Mamo Wolde, without shoes on, finished fourth.

In the marathon, Temu finished 49th in 2-40: 46.6. The marathon was won by legendary Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia in 2-12: 11.2, more than four minutes ahead of the runner-up Basil Heatley of Great Britain. Mamo Wolde, hampered by a leg injury did not finish; but his younger brother Demissie Wolde was 10th, while Ron Clarke was 9th and nearly a minute ahead of Wolde.

A sigh of encouragement would come to Temu, in the following year of 1965, when he became the Kenya national champion at the 6 miles by winning in June in Mombasa

The inaugural All-Africa Games were held in Brazzaville in Congo from July 18-25 in 1965. Temu won the silver medal in the 5000m, beaten by fellow countryman Kip Keino. In these Games, United Arab Republic (the then union between Egypt and Syria) was the overall win, followed by Nigeria, then Kenya coming in third. The Games were considered successful, and highlighted by the rising African athletes on the international scene.

At 1966 British Commonwealth Games held (August 4 – 11) in Kingston in Jamaica, Temu notably won gold in the 6 mile distance (which at is nearly 400 meters less than 10,000 meters), clearly beating runner-up and 10000m world record holder Ron Clarke. Temu’s time was 27:14.6, while Clarke’s was 27:39. The progression of the race had seen Temu and Clarke break away quickly from the rest of the field in the first stages of the race. At the halfway mark, the two were running at world record-breaking pace. But Clarke’s persistence failed to discourage the young Temu. And with four laps left, Temu impressively broke away from Clarke and established a big gap

In the 6 miles, Jim Adler of Scotland was third, finishing in more than a minute behind Temu. Nevertheless, Adler one the marathon in Kingston, and went on to win the silver in the same event in these Games held in Edinburgh in Scotland in 1970. In Kingston, Ron Clarke won another silver medal, this time coming in second to Kipchoge Keino in the 5000m. Clarke also notably won a silver in the 10000m in the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in 1970. As for Temu, his time in the 6 mile-run was an impressive Commonwealth Games record (over a minute shaved off the record) and it still stands following the prevalent metric standardization of the races. Temu’s 27:14.6 was also the fourth best time ever, in the world. Also, notably, before the starting of the 6-mile final in Kingston, Ron Clarke’s world record in this event was twenty seconds faster than anyone else had ever run and it was more than a minute faster than Temu’s best at the distance.

Just two days after the 6 mile win, Temu impressively finished fourth in the 3 miles run (4827 meters) behind Keino, Clarke, and Allan Rushmer (England) respectively

In the 1967 East African Championships, held in Kisumu in Kenya, Naftali Temu won gold in the 10000m in 28:53.6. This was for Temu a major tune-up for the Olympic Games that would be held in the challenging high-altitude and thin-air atmosphere of Mexico City, from October 12 to 27 in the following year. But Kenyan runners were expected to perform relatively well in Mexico City, given that most of them lived in high altitude environments of western Kenya that simulate the conditions of Mexico City. Just months before the Olympics in Mexico City, Temu again won in the 10000m in 28:20 which became his best time (and ultimate historical personal best) in the event at these regional Games. They were held in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania in 1968.

In Mexico City, in 1968, Temu had improved and triumphed significantly over the last few years and was hence regarded as a medal hope. In addition to the 10000m in which he had accumulated most victories, Temu was also scheduled to represent Kenya in the 5000m and in the marathon. As for the 10000m then environmental conditions in Mexico City proved to be grueling, and the pace of the finals was noticeably slow. But with its pack of competing legends and promising runners, it proved to be one of the most memorable in the history of the history of long-distance running. Competitor Ron Clarke had astoundingly shattered the 10000m world record in Oslo in a time of 27: 39.4, the previous record 36.2 seconds slower and Clarke the first man to ever run the distance in less than 28 minutes! But yes, Temu had beaten Clarke at the British Commonwealth Games held in 1966. The altitude of Mexico City would likely be a negative factor for Clarke who was born and trained at sea-level.

The 10000m pace was noticeably slow from the beginning! It was host country’s Juan Martinez who captured the lead in the 19th lap, inevitably drawing applause in what was the first competition of the Games. With two laps remaining, four fellows familiar with each other became the leading pack: Temu, Clarke, Mamo Wolde, and Mohammed Gammoudi. But in the lap preceding the final one, Mamo Wolde aged 36 (by far the oldest in the pack) raced away with only Temu fiercingly clinging a few strides behind. Temu was able to break away in a final stride, overtaking Wolde at 50 meters before the finish. Kipchoge Keino, who had collapsed from sickness and exhaustion during the same race and was unable to continue, was standing in the tracks and about to embrace and congratulate Kenya’s first Olympic gold medalist! Clarke’s last two laps were grueling and he collapsed and nearly died at the finishing line where he finished sixth. Clarke’s heart was permanently damaged, and an Australian doctor who attended to him at the finishing line was even sobbing as he was emotionally overcome by the medically challenging condition of Ron Clarke. Nevertheless, Clarke later commendably went on to be placed fifth in the finals of the 5000m. As for the 10000 meters, the final tally was Temu (29: 27.40), Wolde (29:27.75), Mohammed Gammoudi (29:34.2), 21 year-old Juan Martinez (29:35.0), Nikolay Sviridov of the Soviet Union (29:43.2), and Ron Clarke (29:44. . Six finalists, including Keino, did not finish!

A couple of days later saw Naftali contest in the semi-final heats of the 5000m race. He was in the second heat, and he managed to emerge first, followed by rival Ron Clarke. The first five in each of the three heats were placed in the finals. The first heat had witnessed Keino beat second-placed Mohammed Gammoudi, followed by Mamo Wolde. Four days after the historical 10000m win, Temu was therefore placed in the finals off the 5000m run. Temu, along with Kip Keino and Mohammed Gammoudi staged an exciting close and last-lap sprint. Gammoudi emerged triumphant in 14:05.01, in a photo-finish with Keino (14:05.16), and bronze medalist Temu close by in 14:06.4. Juan Martinez of Mexico was fourth in 14:10.8. and Ron Clarke was fifth in 14:12.4.

Only three days later, on October 20, only a week after he had won in the 10000m, Temu was confronted with the marathon! It was held on the final day of track and field competition, beginning at 3pm on a warm (73 degrees F.). As usual, Mexico City lying at an altitude of 7350 feet would prove challenging for the long-distance runners, given that oxygen density in the air decreases with additional elevation. Just like in the other long-distance races, this pace was quite slow and the first stages of the race saw many of the competitors bunched together. Temu did take the lead after three-quarters of the way. But exhaustion from competing and winning medals in two previous long distance runs, must have taken a toll on Temu. Ultimately, Temu slowed down to a pedestrian pace and ended up being 19th in a time of 2:32:36.0. The winner by a wide margin was 36 year-old Ethiopian nemesis Mamo Wolde (2-20:26.4), followed by Kenji Kimihara of Japan (2-23:31.0), and the bronze medalist was Mike Ryan of New Zealand in 2-23:45.0. Of note is that legendary Ethiopian gold medalist in the previous two Olympics, 36 year-old Abebe Bikila, dropped out of the race after foot injuries took a toll on him. Nearly 20 runners did not finish the race.

The Olympics of 1968 would prove to be Temu’s climactic moment in his running career. In 1969, at the East and Central African Championships in which Zambia was included alongside Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, Temu successfully defended his 10000m title in winning in a time of 28:54.8. This regional meet was held in Kampala, Uganda.

During 1970, the wear and tear on Temu’s thin body was evident. His slight build, in spite of his achievements, was vulnerable. He struggled with problems with his feet. In the British Commonwealth Games that were held in Edinburgh in Scotland, Temu emerged a disappointing 19th in the 10000m. Here, veteran nemesis Ron Clarke won the silver medal in 28:13, slightly behind Lachie Stewart of Scotland (28:12), and ahead of bronze medalist Dick Taylor (28:15) of England. Nevertheless, determined Temu still posted both his personal bests in the 5000m (13.36.6) and 10000m (28.21. in 1971.

Temu was set to defend his 10000m Olympic win in the Games held in Munich in Germany in 1972. On August 31, Temu disappointed the athletics’ world by finishing 12th in heat one in a pedestrian time of 30:19.6. Just the first five in each of the three heats would move on to the finals. The eventual gold medalist was Lasse Viren of Finland in a new world record of 27:38.35, followed by legendary 24-year old Emiel Adrien “Miel” Puttemans of Belgium (27:39.58), and legendary Ethiopian Miruts Yifter in 27:40.96). This time, a historical run had left fading Temu out of the picture! Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia was the only finalist that dropped out of the race and therefore did not finish.

At only age 28, Naftali Temu retired from competitive running in 1973. He was allocated farmland (in North Mugirango) in his homeland of Nyamira District, a token of appreciation of his national and international sports achievements, by Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta.

Early in January 2003, Temu was transferred from a hospital in his Kisii town in his native western Kenya region to the more equipped and modern Kenyatta National Hospital in the capital Nairobi. But his prostate cancer and kidney problems had considerably advanced, Temu could not talk or walk. On March 10, only a month a way from his 58th birthday, Naftali Temu died. Many Kenyans feel that the government’s neglecting of this national hero led to or hastened his death. His condition had been diagnosed months, earlier, but Temu did not afford the costs of treating or alleviating his condition, that were hundreds of dollars. However, the costs of Temu’s medical treatment at Kenyatta Hospital were waived. Soon after his death the Naftali Temu Memorial Race was established in honor of Naftali Temu.

References

Entine, John. Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It. New York: PublicAffairs, 2001.

Martin, David E. and Roger W. H. Gynn. The Olympic Marathon. New York: Human Kinetics, 2000.

Page, James A. Black Olympian Medalists. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 1991.

Jonathan Musere

John Akii-Bua: African Olympic Gold Medal Hurdler

February 5, 2011

Born on 3rd December 1949 in Abako sub-county village in Moroto County in Lango District in Uganda, John Charles Akii-Bua (occasionally misspelled as Aki-Bua, or Aki-Buwa, or Akii-Buwa) left school early, at age 15, with an elementary school education. His leaving school early partly had to do with the death of his father and his having to help with family labor whereby he herded cattle and also worked in a local family retail store. As a boy, Akii was not significantly competitive in athletics. His informal athletic build-up came from the rigors of herding and protecting cattle from wild animals. In an interview in “Sports Illustrated,” soon after his Olympic gold medal win, Akii would proudly remark that the lions were particularly weary of his presence when he was there and would not go after the animals he was herding.

When Akii joined the police force in the capital city Kampala, still as a teenager, he again benefited athletically from the rigorous police drills. Akii’s potential in formal athletics was soon noticed, he started training in both track and field events. A police officer Joram Ochana who conveniently was the Africa’s 440 yards-hurdles champion intensified Akii’s training regimen. Akii soon won in eight events at the national police track and field championships. Apart from the hurdles, Akii was quite good at the javelin, the sprints, the 800m, among others and he would even establish a national decathlon record. Concentrating on the hurdles intensified after he was placed under the tutelage of the new national coach from the United Malcolm Arnold. Arnold was Uganda national coach from 1968 to 1972.

Akii-Bua triumphed in the 110 meters-hurdles finals at the East and Central African Championships held in Kampala in 1969. The influence of Arnold, convinced Akii that he would reap more benefits as a 400 meters-hurdler. In the finals of the 400 meters-hurdles at the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in 1970) Akii-Bua struggled with a hernia and back strain injury, he was trailing last at the last 100 meters, but still raced in fast to become fourth in 51.14 seconds. Akii-Bua was notably an unconventional hurdler—he could easily jump over hurdles either with the left or right leading leg.

Akii-Bua’s first significant introduction to the athletic world was his win short-hurdles win at the USA vs. Africa (USA-Pan African) meet on 17th July 1971 in Durham, North Carolina. Akii-Bua won in an astonishing 49 seconds, a new Africa record, and the fastest time of the year. The world record of 48.1 held by Dave Hemery of Britain was less than one second away! Akii had conquered his demons of the Commonwealth Games, neatly beating his doubting African competition including Kenyan hurdler William Koskei who had won the silver at the Commonwealth of Nations Games. The track meet was significantly historical and heavily highlighted by Ebony magazine. Other African track stars that performed exceptionally well included legends Kipchoge Keino (1500m) and Ben Jipcho (3000m steeplechase) of Kenya and Miruts Yifter (5000m and 10000m) of Ethiopia. A couple more African athletes exceeded their expectations at the meet. Akii-Bua would soon be listed in the Afro-American Encyclopedia. He would be offered athletic scholarships from several American colleges but he would turn them down on the grounds that his family needed his presence and financial support at home in Uganda.

At the Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich, Akii-Bua, (by now in Uganda nicknamed “the flying policeman”) was the only one of the competitors, to win in all three of the heats in which he was placed, including the acclaimed finals win. In all the competitions, Akii-Bua would be placed in the strenuous and disadvantageous either of the inner lanes one or two.

The Semi-Final in which Akii-Bua was placed also included top medal prospects David Hemery (Olympic champion from Britain) and American and world leading Ralph Mann (United States). Here Akii-Bua beat his top competition, Ralph Mann was second, and Dave Hemery was third. The Finals witnessed the medal tally in exactly the same order.

At the Olympics of 1972, on 2nd September, Akii-Bua officially became the first man in history to run the 400 meters-hurdles below 48 seconds, finishing first in the acclaimed 47.82 world record.

Akii-Bua and his coach Malcolm Arnold had actually predicted a possible 47 seconds world record gold medal win at the Olympics. Akii had trained hard, doing repetitive short and long-distance hurdle drill runs with heavy weights attached to his body. During a practice run, Akii-Bua is said to have unofficially run under the 400 meters-hurdles world record at Wankulukuku Stadium near Kampala. But Akii-Bua and Arnold humbly did not make much light about it, and waited for the official moment to come. Many, including, Dave Hemery, believe that Akii-Bua would have posted a significantly faster world record if he had been in the convenient middle lanes other than the “tight” inner first lane in the hurdles Olympic final.

Compared to his renowned African peer athletes such as Ben Jipcho (Kenya), Mike Boit (Kenya), and Filbert Bayi (Tanzania), Akii-Bua was significantly much less active in international competition. Many attribute this to the Uganda regime of Idi Amin (1972-1979) as being detrimental to Akii’s athletic potential. During the regime, Akii and many of his relatives became targets of political interest, he was occasionally under house arrest, and his being underfunded meant that he would not compete and train internationally as much as his peers. Even at the Olympic Games in Munich, Akii was wearing an old pair of puma running shoes and a spike on one of them was missing. Akii-Bua was of the ethnic group (Lango) of President Apollo Milton Obote who was overthrown by Idi Amin’s loyal soldiers. There were persecutions during the Amin regime and many Langi fled into exile, many into Tanzania, and they would make attempts to overthrow Amin. Some of Akii-Bua’s relatives were killed during Amin’s regime.

After the 1972 Olympic gold medal win, after four decades, John Akii-Bua is still the only African short distance and also hurdles Olympic gold medallist. He would not participate in the 1976 Olympics that were held in Montreal because of the political boycott by Uganda and many other African countries. But notably, Akii-Bua, with a personal best of 48.69s in the 400 meters-hurdles, was ranked 6th in the world. Also, several weeks prior to the Olympics, he had won in the 400m flat at a meet in Dusseldorf in a personal best of 45.82s. Unfortunately, only three weeks prior to the Olympics, Akii’s left hamstring muscle tore. That would have reduced his chances of winning a medal in Montreal. It turned out that American Edwin Corley Moses would win the gold, finishing in a world-record time of 47.63s.

Jonathan Musere