Melbourne to Rio: Two gold medals for Uganda in six decade Olympic journey

Saturday July 24 2021
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Two legends. Kiprotich (right) managed to qualify himself to lace Akii-Bua’s sprikes by winning the Marathon Gold at the London 2012 Games. Akii-Bua had been the only Ugandan gold medalist in Olympic history. PHOTOS/AGENCIES

By Allan Darren Kyeyune

Games memory lane. Uganda is showing up at the Olympics for the 16th time in history at the Tokyo Games whose opening ceremony comes in six days in the Japanese capital. The journey has been that long since the debut in Melbourne, Australia back in 1956. The Pearl of Africa has collected seven medals including two gold medals.

These are: John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles glory at the Munich 1972 Games and Stephen Kiprotich’s marathon title at the London 2012 Games. That medal tally may appear meagre but 71 of the current 206 National Olympic Committees have never won an Olympic medal. Darren Allan Kyeyune looks at how Uganda has performed at each of the past 15 editions.

Melbourne 1956 Debut to forget
Uganda was still a protectorate on its Olympic debut in Melbourne, six years before attaining independence from Britain. The flag wasn’t Black, Yellow and Red of today but rather the Union Jack. Like novices often are, Uganda had three participants, all in athletics.

Sprinter Benjamin Nguda won the 100m first round in 10.7sec but did not go past the second round. In the 200m, he posted 22.89sec in seventh place in the first round.

Patrick Etolu came 12th with a height of 1.96m in high jump while Lawrence Ogwang missed the long jump final but came 20th in triple jump final with a distance of 14.72m.

Rome 1960 Bombers debut
Uganda hit double-digit participants with 10 athletes comprising four sprinters and made its first appearance in the boxing ring.

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On track, Gadi Ado came fourth in 49.0sec but didn’t exceed the 400m Heats. Sam Amukun then posted 10.6sec and 21.3sec in fourth places but it was not good enough to make the 100m and 200m semi-finals.

Aggrey Awori, who would later stand for president in 2001, also doubled over the 100m with 10.9sec in fifth but didn’t go past the Heats. In the 100m hurdles, Awori, who succumbed to Covid-19 aged 82 on July 5, came fourth with 14.94sec and didn’t make the semi-finals.

But Jean Baptiste Okello went as far as the 100m hurdles where he came fifth with 14.59sec in lane 3. The quartet of Ado, Amukun, Awori and Okello combined for the 4x100m relay but despite posting 41.90sec in the Heats, they were disqualified.
In boxing, none beat an opponent. Italian Paolo Curcetti beat Frank Kisekka 5-0 in the round of 64, John Sentongo and Grace Sseruwagi each earned byes but were stopped by Polish Brunon Bendig 5-0 and Iraqi Khalid Al-Karkhi 4-1 in the bantam and light welterweight classes, respectively, at the last 32.

Light middleweight Francis Nyangweso, middleweight Peter Odhiambo and light heavyweight George Oywell all got byes at the last 32 stage but the trio was stopped by Americans Wilbert McClure 5-0 and Edward Crook 4-1, and Romanian Gheorghe Negrea 5-0.

Tokyo 1964 Women debut
Uganda presented its first female participants in sprinters Irene Muyanga and Mary Musani. Muyanga reached the 100m quarterfinals but Musani stopped in the 200m and 80m hurdle Heats.

Then, Awori and Amukun returned to Tokyo but neither went past the 200m Heats. Awori also came fifth in a time of 14.6sec over the 110m hurdles. Debutants James Odongo (100m), Virgil Okiring (110m hurdles) and Amos Omolo (400m) all stopped in the Heats.

Awori, Amukun, Odongo and Omolo combined to post 41.4sec but fifth place wasn’t enough to advance to the 4x100m Relay quarterfinals.

In boxing, the highlight was Oywell who met legendary American Joe ‘Smokin’ Frazier in the third round but lost when the referee stopped the contest (RSC).

However, welterweight Ernest Mabwa went furthest to the quarterfinals when he stunned American Maurice Frilot 5-0 in round two before another split decision win over Romanian Constantin Niculescu. He was however humbled by Soviet Union’s Ričardas Tamulis 5-0 in the quarterfinals. 

Cambodian Chin Hong You survived lightweight Alex Odhiambo after RSC, then the latter beat Mexican Mario Serrano 5-0 but he lost to Hungarian János Kajdi 5-0 in the next round.

Middleweight Peter Odhiambo punched Frenchman Jacoues Marty 5-0 in round two but Egyptian Ahmed Hassan proved too strong for him at the last 16 stage. Then light heavyweight Henry Mugwanya lost to German Jurgen Schlegel 5-0 in the last 32.

Mexico City 1968 Rwabwogo, Mukwanga delight
Uganda won its first medal when boxers Leo Rwabwogo and Eridadi Mukwanga won flyweight bronze and bantamweight silver. Rwabwogo defeated South Korean Seo Sang-Yeong 5-0, American David Vásquez 3-2, and Hungarian Tibor Badari 3-2 in the last eight but lost to Polish Artur Olech 3-2 in the semis to settle for bronze.

Mukwanga went a step better though. He first knocked out Spaniard Ramiro Suárez in the second round at the last 32 stage. In the next bout, he got RSC in round two to save Romanian Nicolae Giju.

Mukwanga then eased past Mexican Roberto Cervantes 4-1 in the quarterfinals before powering past South Korean Chang Kyou-chul 4-1 in the semis. However, the final against Soviet Union’s Valerian Sokolov proved tough as RSC in the second round.

American Ronnie Harris stopped Mohammed Muruli 5-0 in the lightweight quarterfinals while another man from Joe Biden’s land James Wallington beat Alex Odhiambo in the light welterweight last 16.

Other boxing debutants Andrew Kajjo lost to Argentine Mario Guilloti 4-1 in the welterweight last 32, Dannish Christian Larsen edged David Jackson 3-2 to the light middleweight last 16.

Middleweight Matthias Ouma had a bye but was stopped by Soviet Union’s Aleksei Kiselyov 4-1 while the RSC for South Korean Jee Yong-ju against Douglas Ogada at the light flyweight opening stage.

In athletics, Mustafa Musa, Uganda’s first long-distance runner at the Olympics, came ninth in the 5000m Heat, 22nd in the 10000m final and 55th in the Marathon. That would be pretty difficult for an elite long-distance runner to do today.

William Dralu stopped in the 200m Heats while Amolo emerged the best sprinter for the nation. He won his first two races and finished fourth in the semis but posted 47.61sec to finish last in the 400m final.

Montreal 1976 Akii-Bua misses out
Uganda was one of the 29 countries which boycotted the 1976 Games after the IOC failed to ban New Zealand. The Oceania nation’s rugby team had toured South Africa earlier in 1976 in defiance of the United Nations’ calls for a sporting embargo of the country. Akii-Bua missed out on defending his Olympic gold.

Moscow 1980 Stellar Mugabi
Akii-Bua returned to the Games aged 31 and he could only go as far as the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles. Ayoo stopped in the 400m quarterfinals, while Charles Dramiga did not go past the Heats.
Pius Olowo, Dramiga, Akii-Bua and Ayoo exchanged the baton over the 4x400m relay but 3:07.0sec in fifth place wasn’t good enough to go past the Heats.

In javelin, Justin Arop made his debut with 82.68m in the qualification but his distance of 77.34m had him finish 12th in the final. Fidelis Ndyabagye made no mark in long jump.

In the ring, boxing yielded Uganda’s fifth Olympic medal when flag bearer John ‘Beast’ Mugabi starred with silver in the welterweight category. He had three straight first round TKOs over Congolese Georges Koffi, Paul Rasamimanana of Madagascar and Yugoslavian Mehmet Bogujevci to reach the medal bracket.

Mugabi then got a split-decision win over Polish Kazimierz Szczerba before losing to Cuban Andrés Aldama in the final.
John Siryakibbe lost bantamweight quarterfinal to Venezuelan Bernardo Piñango by TKO in the second round. Middleweight Peter Odhiambo lost 5-0 to Polish Jerzy Rybicki and missed bronze.

Light middleweight Peter Kabuto whitewashed Ethiopian Seifu Retta but Cuban Armando Martínez stopped him by TKO in round one at the last 16.

Light flyweight Charles Lubulwa did not make it past the same stage when he met Hungarian György Gedó who won TKO in round one.

Light welterweight John Munduga also lost via the same score to Iraqi Farouk Jawad and missed the quarters. Lightweight Geofrey Nyeko lost to East Germany’s Richard Nowakowski by TKO in the first round at the last 64 stage.

Los Angeles 1984 Cycling, swimming in
Uganda debuted in cycling with Ernest Buule and Muharud Mukasa who competed in the individual race. However,neither finished the race that was on a 190.2km hilly course over 12 laps of a circuit in Mission Viejo. To-date, no other cyclist has featured for Uganda at the Games.

The nation also had weightlifting debutants; Fred Bunjo in the 75kg category and John Kyazze in the 110kg class. Bunjo finished 12th while Kyazze was not graded.

There was also a debut for the nation in the pool. Daniel Mulumba competed in the 100m freestyle Heats, posting 1:07.86sec for 68th place in the final ranking.

Uganda again came close to winning more medals in boxing; this time Lubulwa losing to Nigerian Peter Konyegwachie 5-0 in the featherweight quarterfinals. Then heavyweight Dodovic Owiny lost to Canadian Willie DeWit by TKO in round one of the quarterfinal.

Five other Bombers; light flyweight William Bagonza, lightweight Nyeko, welterweight Peter Okumu, light middleweight Vincent Byarugaba and light heavyweight Jonathan Kiriisa were stopped at the last 16 stage.

Middleweight Patrick Lihanda, who is current coach of the Bombers, lost 5-0 to South Korean Shin Joon-Sup at the last 32 stage. Flyweight John Kakooza, bantamweight Siryakibbe and light welterweight William Galiwango, too, stopped at this stage.

In athletics, Evelyn Adiru stopped in the 800m Heats while Ruth Kyalisima reached the 400m hurdle semi-finals.
Uganda’s only field event participant Arop missed the javelin final while Wilson Achia did not finish the Marathon but Vincent Ruguga came 29th in 2:17:54sec.

John Goville reached the 200m quarterfinals. All other sprinters stopped in the Heats; Moses Kyeswa and Mike Okot (both 400m), Charles Mbazira (100m) and Peter Rwamuhanda (400m hurdles).

Goville, Kyeswa, Okot and Rwamuhanda went all the way to the 4x400m relay final and even if they finished eighth, they produced a national record 3:02.09 that stands to-date.

Seoul 1988 Three relay teams
It is strange that Uganda struggles to have sprinters at the top stage but in the South Korean capital 33 years ago, it presented three relay teams.

Moses Musonge, Joseph Ssali, Goville and Okot posted 41.39sec in the 4x100m relay Heats, while Sunday Olweny didn’t go past the 200m Heats.

Uganda then had a trio in the Marathon for the first-time; Benjamin Longiross came 62nd, just ahead of Vincent Ruguga, while Fred Ogwang was 92nd. Arop again missed the javelin final.

On the women’s front, Oliver Acii (200m), Farida Kyakutewa (100m and 400m) and Ruth Kyalisima (400m hurdles) all missed advancing past the Heats.

Even when they combined with Grace Buzu for the 4x100m relay Heats, they posted 46.55sec in sixth. Jane Ajilo replaced Buzu but the quartet failed to start in the 4x400m relay.

In the nine-man boxing team comprising Lihanda, Lubulwa, John Bosco Waigo and Fred Muteweta, middleweight Franco Wanyama went furthest. He reached the quarterfinals and lost 5-0 to Kenyan Chris Sande.
Weightlifters John Kaddu Kuteesa and Ali Kavuma finished 21st and 24th in the respective 67kg and 90kg categories.

Barcelona 1992 Table tennis bow
Mary Musoke became Uganda’s first table tennis competitor in the Olympics. She identically lost 2-0 to Romanian Emilia Ciosu and Hong Kong’s Chan Tan Lui in the group stages of the women’s singles.

Then all boxers bantamweight Muteweta, featherweight David Lusimbo and light welterweight Godfrey Wakaabu lost to Irish Wayne McCullough (28-7), Tunisian Mohamed Soltani (13-8) and Canadian Mark Leduc (9-2) respectively at the last 32 stage.

Michael Lopeyok finished 82nd in Marathon while Francis Ogola made the 200m and 400m quarterfinals. Joel Otim didn’t go past 100m Heats, so did Edith Nakiyingi in 800m.

Atlanta 1996 Kamoga bronze
Sprinter Davis Kamoga ended Uganda’s 16-year medal wait by scooping 400m bronze in 43.49sec behind Britain’s Roger Black and winner American Michael Johnson.

Ogola had failed to finish the lap in the Heats while Julius Acon stopped in the 1500m Heats. Grace Birungi, too, did not go past the 400m Heats.

In boxing, Argentine Fabrizio Nieva beat Franco Agentho 12-8 in the lightweight last 32. Charles Kizza had a bye but lost to Chinese Jiang Tao 10-7 at the last 16. In weightlifting, Ali Kavuma lifted 260.0 to finish 19th in the 108kg category.

Musoke this time had June Kyakobye but both stopped in the women’s table tennis singles groups, the same for Paul Mutambuze in the men’s singles. Musoke and Kyakobye partnered for the doubles but lost all pool matches to Taiwanese, South Korean and Romanian pairings.

Sydney 2000  Archery debut
Margaret Tumusiime broke the ice for Uganda in archery at the Olympics. She however lost her singles’ last 64 duel 164-124 to South Korean Kim Soo-Nyung. Tumusiime posted a score of 474.

On track, Kamoga had a chance to improve his Atlanta show but he bowed out in the quarterfinals. Marathoner Alex Malinga posted 2:24:53 in 57th place. Acon came back and went as far as the 1500m semis, while Paskar Owor stopped in the 800m Heats.

In table tennis women’s singles Group N, Musoke lost to Russian Irina Palina and Hong Kong’s Song Ah Sim. In the pool, Joe Atuhaire and Supra Singhal failed to get past the respective 100m breaststroke and 100m freestyle.

All boxers; light flyweight Muhamed Kizito, flyweight Jackson Asiku, bantamweight Abdu Tebazalwa and featherweight Adam Kassim were all humbled at the last 32 stage.

Athens 2004 Kiprop misses bronze
Uganda would have scooped its seventh Olympic medal but Boniface Kiprop came fourth in the 10000m final at the Athens Olympic Stadium.

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele won in an Olympic record of 27:05.10, his counterpart Sileshi Sihine took silver while Eritrean Zersenay Tadese took bronze for his nation’s only Olympic medal to-date. Wilson Busienei came 11th.

Owor still stopped in the 800m Heats, so did world steeplechase champion Dorcus Inzikuru in the 5000m.
Irene Ajambo became the country’s first female weightlifter at the Olympics and came ninth with a total 150 in the 69kg category and in the 50m freestyle, swimmer Edgar Luberenga was ranked 75th.

Lightweight Sam Rukundo emerged as the nation’s best Bomber despite being stopped by Russian Murat Khrachev 31-18 in the quarterfinals. Light flyweight Jolly Katongole, featherweight Brian Mayanja, welterweight Sadat Tebazaalwa and middleweight Joseph Lubega all didn’t go past the last 32 stage.

Beijing 2008 Kipsiro podium miss
Kiprop returned and finished 10th in the 25-lap final but this time, it was Moses Kipsiro who came closest to the podium.
The 2007 world bronze medallist came fourth in the 5000m final, finishing behind winner Bekele and Kenyan pair of Eliud Kipchoge and Edwin Soi. Kipsiro’s counterpart Geoffrey Kusuro stopped in the Heats.

Abraham Chepkirwok reached the 800m semis, Benjamin Kiplagat finished ninth in the steeplechase final, then marathoner Malinga improved to finish 31st whereas Justine Bayigga stopped in the 400m Heats.

Uganda debuted in the badminton event through Edwin Ekiring who lost to South Korean Park Sung-hwan at the last 32 stage. In swimming, both Gilbert Kaburu and Olivia Nakitanda didn’t get past the 50m freestyle Heats.

In boxing, Uganda’s only representative light flyweight Ronald Serugo lost to Mongolian Pürevdorjiin Serdamba 9-5 in the last 32 while weightlifter Mubarak Kivumbi failed to compete in the 56kg category.

London 2012, Kiprotich marathon gold

Uganda again ended another 16-year wait through marathoner Stephen Kiprotich who delivered on the final day of the Games in London nine years ago. Kiprotich, 23, burst past Kenyans Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang around the 38km mark to claim Uganda’s second-ever Olympic Gold in athletics. His time of 2:08.11sec was 26 seconds clear of Kirui in second, with Kipsang a further 70 seconds back.

Munich 1972, Akii-Bua gold, Rwabwogo upgrades to silver

Uganda won a first gold medal when John Akii-Bua powered to the 400m hurdles win on September 2, 1972, in 47.82sec – a world record – to become the first man to run the race under 48 seconds. Dralu stopped in the 100m and 200m Heats.
Silver Ayoo stopped in the 400m Heats. Fulgence Rwabu came 59th in the Marathon but Abraham Munabi missed triple jump final.

Vitus Ashaba became the first Ugandan to compete in the middle-distance events, stopping in the 1500m and 3000m steeplechase Heats.

In the women’s events, Judith Ayaa posted 52.68 in third place at the quarterfinal Heat for an African record but 16-year-old Mary Musani stopped in the 200m quarters.
In boxing, Rwabwogo upgraded his bronze to silver. He lost to Hungarian Georgi Kostadinov 5-0 in the final. He remains Uganda’s only athlete with more than one Olympic medal.

N. Korean Kim U-Gil stopped light flyweight James Odwori via KO in the quarterfinals.
Back for a second Olympics, Jackson lost the welterweight quarterfinal to Jesse Valdez (USA) 4-1. Featherweight Deogratius Musoke lost to Jouko Lindberg, lightweight Peter Odhiambo lost to Colombian Alfonso Pérez and light middleweight John Opio surrendered to Bulgarian Nayden Stanchev, all at the last 32 stage.

Light welterweight Muruli and middleweight Ouma didn’t go past the first stage. Uganda had 33 participants at the Games, its biggest contingent ever. The group was big because it included a hockey team that drew W. Germany, Spain and Argentina, and lost the other four group matches. They however beat Mexico 4-1 on penalties after a 1-all draw in the classification match to finish 15th.

Hockey player Elly Kitamirike became and still remains Uganda’s oldest competitor in Olympic history at the age of 41 and 16 days.

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