My dad, a soccer diehard is my inspiration. Go to Makerere University any evening you will find him training children how to play soccer. Throughout, he was my number one fan. He could stand at the end of the lane to watch me run and whenever he was around, I had to win, no matter against whom.
I first played soccer, but my headmaster at Buganda Road Primary School told me I was better off running. When I joined King’s College Budo, I found myself running with the seniors because I was too fast for the juniors.
My talent grew at Makerere College School and I was soon drafted into the national junior team. At the East and Central Africa Championships in Nairobi in 1985, I ran 100m in 10:09 (hand time) a national junior record which stands to date. After winning three gold medals: 100m; 4x100m and 4x400m, we entered the senior team because our times were as good as the seniors’.
Charles Mbaziira, Moses Kyeswa, John Goville, among others, gave way to rising stars. Sande Olweny, Joseph Ssali, Edward Bitoga and I were a terrific quartet. We competed like fierce rivals but blended like siblings. And that togetherness took us places. We were the prime generation of sprints.
Nowadays, you can’t find such unity among sprinters, little wonder everyone is talking about long distances yet traditionally Uganda was known for sprinting and boxing.
Sprints are virtually dead. We have very good coaches, like Faustino Kiwa but he tells you kids tell him “Coach, you have very good training programme but I have got my own.” But I believe we have the talent.
The Seoul 1988 expedition
In 1987, we had won bronze in the 4x100m relays at the All-Africa Games in Nairobi. Nigeria took gold as hosts Kenya bagged silver. We also set a national record of 39:67seconds, which also still stands. As usual, I was the first with the baton, gave it to Olweny; then Ssali gave it Bitoga, who was such a good finisher. Almost immediately after, we began preparations for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. We were three teams: cyclists and boxers camped here at Lugogo, while we resided at Kyambogo University, then ITEK.
George William Odeke, the Uganda Athletics Federation president then, made sure we got all the facilitation we needed; he did all the paperwork regarding our travel documents; we didn’t have to go to embassies for visas.
Peter Okot (now coaching throwers) catered for the physiotherapy while Dr James Ssekajugo handled the medical bit. Each athlete earned double training allowances: Shs150,000 from the club and another Shs150,000 from the national team every month. The food was the best you could have at home—generally, we were very well catered for.
Preparing for the feat
Personally, I was a lazy trainer and I dodged jogging sessions. Whenever coach Okot came for us in the morning, I hid in the dormitories. I joined my teammates during gym work which usually started at 9am after breakfast. I concentrated on power training (weightlifting) and speed endurance. In the evening, we hit the track to test our speeds. If we could run 150m in 15:05secs or 16secs, we knew we were ready for the 100m. After one and half months of training, teams integrated for departure. We left two weeks to the Games, and we had enough time to acclimatise. Through Nairobi to Delhi; we had a short training stint in Tokyo, before we reached Seoul.
Sports minister Moses Ali was a sportsman at heart and favoured us so much. Each athlete earned US$600 for the trip, while each official earned US$1500. I remember when he grilled officials who stayed with us in the Village. He told them: “You are here because of these athletes’ hard work and sacrifice, yet you earn more than they do.” He instantly increased our allowances to US$1500.
Rubbing shoulders with fame. The best moment was mixing with the big names like Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, (who had broken John Akii-Bua’s record), Butch Reynolds, Ben Johnson and Linford Christie, among others. We were young and we relished every moment we had with the stars; they were free with us, they let us train with them; they advised us. Usain Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills is the best I have ever met. He was then coaching the Jamaican team. There was no internet, but we regularly communicated through letters. We returned enlightened athletes with more knowledge of the game. We really learnt much from them. In fact, I enjoyed training more than the actual race because during the race I felt intimidated; everyone meant business. I felt: “I wish I had a second chance I would have done better.” Sadly, there was no such chance and we were submerged by France, the European champions, and hosts Korea. We lost the first heat.
Our Achilles heel
After two weeks we returned. Unfortunately, in Nairobi we were robbed of some of our stuff. Though we were compensated, we lost some of our souvenirs, photos and training plans. In Uganda, the reception was lukewarm. We were a very big team expected to perform but in Seoul, we all, including boxers, had flopped. I won’t blame anyone but the absence of Bitoga and Akii-Bua cost us dear. Bitoga, our usual finisher (4x100m relays), got injured and did not qualify for Seoul. John Goville, usually a 400m runner, replaced him but did not finish well. I believe with Bitoga we would have done better.
Two, Akii-Bua had worked with coaches Pius Olo and Absalom Ojwang but he was dropped because he was not a certified coach. This demoralised us because although he lacked qualifications, he was the real coach. From his experience (a Munich ’72 gold medallist), he had improved us a lot; we really missed him. In fact, he was like a teammate who understood us better.
I regret that was my only Olympics. I missed Barcelona’92 edition due to lack of tickets.
In 1996, I had qualified with Davis Kamoga (400m bronze medallist) for the Olympics in Atlanta but I injured my left knee in residential training. Abbey Lutaaya, general secretary of National Council of Sports told me there was no money for my surgery. I later went for kyeyo in UK. I worked for seven months, got the Shs9m and I underwent the surgery in Ireland. I returned on a wheelchair and Dr Ian Clarke, who had connected me to Ireland, removed the stitches. I returned to track but I lacked inspiration; all my teammates had retired into other jobs in the UK. I later tried badminton but I retired in 2000. In 2004, I decided to return to sports when crafted the MTN Marathon.