KAMPALA- It is a Thursday morning and Joshua Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza has been working in Hotel Africana swimming pool for nearly two hours swimming about 100 laps.
Unlike the seriousness you can read on teammate Jamila Lunkuse and coach Muzafaru Muwanguzi’s faces, there is nothing to show these three are preparing for the Olympics, the celebration of sport all over the world.
“I have been preparing all year, honestly ther
e is only so much you can do in two weeks to the competition,” Ekirikubinza, who is surely enjoying himself, says.
He knows there is no pressure to win medals but Ekirikubinza is under no illusion about how much he needs to maintain or swim under 25s in the 50m freestyle.
“There is hope for me to do better as long as I can keep my head down. My only focus is that I am going to swim,” the Computer Science and Economics student at Grinnell College in Iowa – USA, where his swimming career has moved by leaps and bounds, states.
“People are asking me; what medal are you going to win? Michael Phelps won his first medal at his second Olympics and is going to his fifth. We need to focus on the long term and encourage that kind of mindset in Uganda,” he adds.
“Everyone pays attention when the Olympics come but there is a background to how you get there. If you throw all that out and let the pressure get to you, you lose out on the experience,” opines the 19 year old swimmer, who was inspired to join the water sport as a six year old by elder brother Emmanuel.
Ekirikubinza isn’t even worried about the opponents he may face, some of whom have had better preparations. He pays membership of Shs550,000 per month to train and gym with brother Elisha, 17, at Hotel Africana – a burden he believes should be shouldered by government ahead of the Games.
“I can psyche myself up and do a terrible time or focus and get a good time. I have nothing to do with their preps. I just have to give my all,” he says. He is an outspoken lad that served in student politics and spoke on behalf of his class on their college graduation day at Aga Khan Academy - Kenya.
“Swimming is a great part of my life but I had to get a full life experience in school. I played football at nine years, was into student government and now enjoying the freedom at university,” he shares.
It is therefore hard for him to speak about how he made the Olympics, on a wild card after clocking 25:54 in the 50m freestyle at World Championships held last August in Kazan - Russia, without him adding his voice to the challenges of the day.
“We get a lot of criticism but there has been no investment to have a home grown qualifier let alone medal winner at international meets,” he says.
“Jamila is in the UK, I am in USA where my pool is just three minutes from where I stay. Here kids have no facilities. They leave school, drive for an hour to meet the coach.
“But we still try and don’t throw our hands up to wait for things to get better. It’s testament to what talent we have that we have swimmers that go to the Olympics,” he adds. Ekirikubinza knows he must make this opportunity count while he his time at Grinnell College lasts.
“To be honest I wasn’t a medal winner as a kid but I started thinking of the Olympics in 2012 when Jamila and Ganzi (Mugula) were preparing to go,” he shares.
He beat another top performer Arnold Kisulo to the wild card while his brother and their friend Nuwa Senkebe will also eye 2020. “Competition will be tight but rather than us compete for one spot, what if this competition helps us qualify on our own? It will be a dream swimming next to my brother, Senk and Arnold.”