Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

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

May 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: Attempt to Smash the Hurdles World Record and the Renaming of Stanley Road

November 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

Jonathan Musere

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

July 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Jonathan Musere

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

July 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

June 3, 2013

Introduction

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

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

1967

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

1968

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

1969

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

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

1970 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1971

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

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

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

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

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

1972 and the Olympics in Munich

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

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

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

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

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

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

1973

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1974 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Christchurch

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

1975

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

1976 and the Olympics in Montreal

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

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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Musere

Allyson Felix: Florence Joyner’s 200m USA Olympic Trials Record is Lowered

July 24, 2012

Heavily decorated Allyson Michelle Felix, born on November 11, 1985, in Los Angeles, became an American and international track star as a teenager, such that at age 26 she is already a legend and a veteran. Her accolades include USA relay gold medals and many national, world championship and track meet victories in 100m, 200m, and 400m. Her early accolades include a World Youth Championship win (at age 16) in the 100m in Debrecen, Hungary in 2001, and a gold medal in the 4 x 100m USA team relay at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo in 2003. What Felix certainly longs for is that individual Olympic medal that she competed for in the 100m and 200m at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. At both Olympics, held respectively in Athens and Beijing, Felix was beaten into second in the 200m.  

  On June 30, 2012, in Eugene at the USA Olympic Trials in Oregon, Felix’s national victory in the 200m proved that she is on track to bag the gold in the event at the Olympic Games to be held in London during July and August of 2012. On June 30, in the 200m national Olympic Trials finals, Allyson Felix (21.69) beat her highly competent and heavily decorated veteran team-mates Carmelita Jeter (22.11) and Sanya Richards-Ross (22.22) who had already qualified for London in other sprint events, by a significant margin.  

  The personal-best win established Felix as the new Olympic Trials 200m record holder, as the meet record previously established by legendary Florence Griffith-Joyner (21.77) on July 22, 1988, when Allyson was 2 years-old, became obliterated! ALL-IS-ON! A previously anxious crowd of spectators became elated by the performance, Allyson was all-smiles! Besides an Olympic gold, another personal best, even a new world record is not out of the picture in the future of young Allyson Felix!  

  Only two Americans have established better times in the 200m. Griffith-Joyner established the world records 21.56 and 21.34 on September 29, 1988, at the Olympics in Seoul in the semi-finals and finals, respectively. The other with a better time than Felix is Marion Jones who ran in 21.62 on September 11, 1998, at the International Amateur Athletic Association (IAAF) World Championships held in Johannesburg. Coincidentally, both “Flo-Jo” and Marion Jones were also residents of Los Angeles.  

  Felix together with team-mate Jeneba Tarmoh (11.07) were previously declared equally tied third in the 100m finals at the same Trials. The winner in the event was Carmelita Jeter (10.92) , followed by Tianna Madison (10.96). After negotiations with the USA Track and Field (USATF) governing body, the eventual third American competitor in the 100m was scheduled to be determined by a 100m runoff race by Felix and Tarmoh on July 1 at 5pm. Tarmoh, who had originally been declared third (and Felix fourth) at the trials, ulimately conceded the third spot on the 100m sprint team to Allyson Felix. Tarmoh felt cheated and not psychologically ready for the runoff with her training partner and friend.  

 Bibliography 

http://www.usatf.org/Events—Calendar/2012/U-S–Olympic-Team-Trials-TF/Results.aspx