Posts Tagged ‘Munich’

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

March 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

Jonathan Musere


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

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



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: Olympic Trials and Triumphs

June 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Musere

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

May 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Musere