For sports-mad Ugandans, the celebrations are not about to stop. Not after Uganda claimed its first Olympics track medal since the 1996 Atlanta Games when sprinter Davis Kamoga bagged bronze in the men’s 400m race.
After all Uganda has previously been making headlines for the wrong reasons since the advent of these delayed Tokyo 2020 Games with several reports of positive Covid-19 tests in the camp at Izumisano plus the unfortunate disappearing and deporting act of 20-year-old Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko.
The party is more than 24 hours old now and justifiably so because it is not just one medal but two medals this time round.
World champion and world record holder Joshua Cheptegei and world half-marathon champion Jacob Kiplimo finished second and third for silver and bronze during Friday afternoon’s Tokyo Olympics men’s 10000m final race.
And for the purists who were urged on by the trigger-happy global media, something went amiss.
International media was quick to term Ethiopian Selemon Barega’s triumph as ‘an upset’ and ‘huge shock’ over Uganda’s elite pair of Cheptegei and Kiplimo.
The World 5000m silver medalist Barega surged clear on the final lap’s back straight and refused to be reeled in, winning in 27 minutes 43.22 seconds despite pressure from the Ugandans.
Cheptegei and Kiplimo’s final kick was all evident to the joy of several Ugandans watching from back home but it was still 0.41 seconds off the victor’s mark.
From preparations, mental toughness and down to tactics deployed by the Ugandans, the pundits have been baring their fangs itching to point a finger at what could have gone wrong.
“I have been having some challenges mentally, some challenges injury-wise,” disclosed the celebrated Cheptegei, who set world records in three different events across track and road in 2020.
“At one point I thought maybe I needed to refresh my mind and stay with family and wait until the next season. But if I had, I would not have won the Olympic (silver) medal.”
In the final stretch to the finish line, Cheptegei was seen to ‘wait and pick up’ Kiplimo for the final dash – something that many analysts have criticised and applauded in equal measure.
“May be I am wrong, but I believe we owe the bronze medal to Cheptegei, who in my view sacrificed his gold to go and pick-up Kiplimo from his seventh position so that each of the two brothers would win a medal,” reasoned one seasoned sports lover who requested not to be quoted.
But a renowned athletics critic who preferred anonymity opined else. “Nonsense! Did he carry him on his shoulders?” he questioned.
During the race, the third Ugandan athlete, Stephen Kissa, set pace and courageously led for the majority of the first half of the race to tire and force the Kenyans out of contention en route.
“Kissa must have just followed the coach’s instructions without applying common sense. He could have slowed down a bit and then upped the tempo after like 10 laps. The Kenyans fell for our strategy but the Ethiopians were too clever,” explains Sande Bashaija, a celebrated athletics pundit, who has authoritatively reported about the sport for years.
“Controlling the pace was Kissa’s job in the hope that the opponents would try to chase him and tire. This would open the way for Cheptegei and Kiplimo to strike late and beat all the tired bodies to the line.
“But you must have realised that when everyone refused to follow Kissa, Kiplimo decided to up the pace a bit. This could have disorganised his game plan.
“Barega has a monstrous finish. Beating him would have required our boys to open up with about four laps left. In a clogged elite field of that kind on the bell, the stronger finisher takes it.”
Veteran sports commentator Mark Ssali seemed to concur with Bashaija’s strong analysis.
“The sprint started late. The Ethiopian hoodwinked them. He didn’t fall for the bait. Also Cheptegei seemed to believe he had more time. Seemed to drop back to pick up Kiplimo’s pace at 400m,” reasoned Ssali.