Abraham Kiplimo’s podium finish at the Commonwealth Games that end today in the Scottish city of Glasgow is yet more proof that Ugandan athletes are not just increasingly gravitating toward the marathon but also hitting the jackpot.
Kiplimo beat several odds, including a tumble at the 38km mark, to win bronze. Some observers reckon the script would have had a different endnote had Kiplimo not tum-bled. Others add that had Jackson Kiprop, the 2013 Mumbai Marathon champion, not been struck down by a subtle illness, Uganda would have had more than a singular representative at the podium.
All of this of course rests on a cornerstone of conjecture, but also goes to show the extraordinary levels of respect that Ugandan marathon running currently commands. The reverence is undoubtedly an offshoot of Stephen Kiprotich’s prolific conquests at the London Olympics in 2012 and 2013 World Athletics Championships in the Russian capital of Moscow.
The victory in Moscow was unusually good on an individual level because it made Kiprotich only the second man - after Ethiopia’s Gezahegne Abera - to win successive gold medals in marathons at the Olympics and World Athletics Championships.
While Kiprotich went it alone on the streets of London, he got some help from the side-shows of Kiplimo and Kiprop in Moscow. As it turns out, Kiplimo and Kiprotich share much more in common than just the Kip prefix.
Both hail from Kapchorwa and were born in the same year — 1989 (Kiprotich in February and Kiplimo two months later in April).
Far from being chalk and cheese, Kiprotich and Kiplimo started their careers as long distance runners. While Kiprotich used to run 10,000 metres, Kiplimo tried a hand at 5000 metres. Both failed to make an impression on the track and consequently had to look elsewhere.
Incidentally, the turning point for both athletes came in marathons that took place in the Land of the Rising Sun as Japan is known.
Kiprotich’s watershed moment came when he finished third at the 2012 Tokyo Marathon in two hours, seven minutes and 50 seconds. That same year, Kiprotich won gold at the London Olympics. A year later he was a world champion.
Kiplimo’s lucky break came early this year when he won the Beppu-Oita Marathon in Japan in a PB of two hours, nine minutes and 23 seconds. The win seems to have galvanised Kiplimo if his third placement in Glasgow is anything to go by. No doubt he will be rubbing his hands in anticipatory relish when the Olympic Games make a stop in Rio in 2016.
Oh, there is a unifying strand that your columnist almost overlooked. Uganda doesn’t have a high altitude training facility, so both Kiprotich and Kiplimo hone their skill in the Kenyan Great Rift Valley village of Kaptagat.
A tectonic marvel that has both low and high altitude challenges, Kaptagat is becoming the destination of many formidable distance runners. Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy of silence about construction of a high altitude training centre in Teryet, Kapchorwa.
All signs are that everything is being done to ensure that the centre remains a figment of our imagination.
What a pity because our athletes are increasingly warming up to distance running!
Hold onto your knives! 7s rugby could well scale the heights
Rebuilding process. The first fruits of Onyango’s project came at the Masaku 7s where a select Ugandan side placed second behind Fijian outfit, Tabadamu, in the Kenyan township of Machakos.
Sevens rugby in Uganda has for a protracted period been a residual something which is arrived at after giving 15s rugby its due. Not any more as 2014 has turned out to be the exception that proves the rule.
This as Tolbert Onyango’s much-vaunted ‘Project 2016’ gives suggestions of sweet fruition. The project has since 2013 set out to have in place a nucleus of sevens players on which Ugandan rugby will piggyback as it attempts to make the grade for the 2016 Olympics.
The first fruits of the project came at the Masaku 7s where a select Uganda side placed second behind Fijian outfit, Tabadamu, in the Kenyan township of Machakos.
The recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, may superficially have looked like a slippery slope; but relevant authorities proffered that they offered a steep learning curve. The privileging of 15 rugby in Uganda had led to an erasure of identities of the short version of the sport. Devoid of subjectivities, sevens rugby was held to an assumption of inferiority as much as oblivion.
It’s now on track to claim its status as Ugandan rugby’s modern day trailblazer. Its otherness is now being celebrated and not subverted.
Which is just as well seeing as the maiden footnotes of Ugandan rugby at the international scene were written by sevens players.