My journey to All-Africa gold begun in 1998 at the Africa Zone V Championship, where I tested my potential outside Uganda.
We had just reached Egypt and I saw boxers from other countries. I told my friend Nasser Kagiri that ‘those are the guys I’m going to beat.’ He was surprised by my arrogance because he was already scared of the challenge ahead. The draws hadn’t been done; I didn’t know my opponents yet, but I was so confident no one would survive me.
Thankfully, I made it. I won gold and qualified for the All-Africa Games in South Africa. Several Ugandans had qualified but only Abdul Tebazaalwa, Isaac Ssentamu and I got sponsorship from the French Embassy in Uganda to attend a training camp in South Africa.
The camp in Port Elizabeth had boxers from across Africa. We were lucky to have this opportunity. The chief trainers
were an African and a Frenchman. With about two months to the Games, we learnt new tactics, scoring systems.
A coach with kid gloves
When our teammates reached South Africa, we left Port Elizabeth. But on our way to the Games village in Johannesburg, we lost our luggage. We panicked. It was nearing winter and we had to be in weight yet we had lost all our clothes. The team manager, Lutaaya and Coach Vicky Byarugaba got us new stuff. Later, we found the lost luggage.
The bittersweet victory
In the finals, I faced a South African boxer. The computer scoring system was introduced but was hidden from general view. Whenever my teammate Isaac Ssentamu, aka Sam Rukundo, peeped at the scores, he told me to work harder because the opponent was leading. In the third round I sent my opponent looping right hooks, which I thought would impress the judges. But Rukundo again told me the same thing—the opponent was still leading.
At the end of the fight I thought I had lost. I was disappointed and thought they had just cheated in favour of their homeboy. Throughout the Games, the Ugandan football team had enjoyed all the support until they lost [the semis 1-0 to Cameroon before losing 2-0 to South Africa in the third-place playoff].
Now all the attention switched to us, the three boxers who were at the finals. All witnessed the Uganda flag rising after my fight. I didn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought I had lost. I was torn between joy and sadness. I asked Rukundo why he had been confusing me. He said he had confused results of the opposite corners.
Towards the Games, coach Byarugaba never tried to change us much. Sometimes we dodged his pad work when we felt tired but he did not get angry. When we wanted to skip meals to maintain weight, he took us to the scale first and then to the dining room and ensured everyone ate.
[Tebazaalwa, Adam Kassim Napa and Jacskon Asiku won gold, silver and bronze respectively]. Lutaaya was so delighted but had some unfinished business in South Africa and wanted the medalists to stay with him until he returned. But Tebazaalwa and I had been there longer and were tired.
We eventually returned and were warmly welcomed back. We had a lavish dinner at the National Council of Sports and I got a prize of US$300 [the dollar rate was at Shs1,000 then, making it Shs300,000. I used that money to start a beauty salon. It was my source of income for some time, even during the six months of Olympic training in Tunisia. But it collapsed when I relocated to Australia.
I don’t remember much special care during our generation but Tebazaalwa, Kassim, Asiku and I prospered because we were determined and self-driven. We didn’t need to be pushed.