This will be Uganda’s best outing at the quadrennial Games. The feeling is so sweet it can only be compared to a teenager’s first time in a discotheque – the eyes light up ever so brightly, mouth jaw-drops and one starts to feel things they have never before.
10000m silver medallist Joshua Cheptegei and bronze winner Jacob Kiplimo left Ugandans with a tinge of mixed reactions after they finished second and third to Ethiopian Selemon Barega last Friday.
But Peruth Chemutai’s rock-solid show and awe-inspiring technic while clearing barriers especially the water-jumps enroute to winning the women’s 3000m steeplechase gold medal yesterday healed the last hints of ruing a missed opportunity on August 30.
Her masterful exhibition of rallying to the front with 300m to go and have the commentator once again wax lyrical about the beauty of Uganda, its friendly people and other worldly things it has to offer left the nation ululating and in praise of the new heroine.
For the past one week, the Covid-19 pandemic has surely taken the backseat as the ever-jolly Ugandans suck in the joyous moments of Uganda’s 25-man elite athletes’ contingent representing the Pearl of Africa at the Tokyo 2020 Games. At literally every buzz and swipe, most Ugandans are either calling or typing to ask their favourite sports journalists when the next Ugandan athlete would be in thick of the action at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
But just because of our laid-back and cheerful character as Ugandans, we seem to either forget so fast or opt not to pay attention to detail on so many important things happening around us.
The writing has been clear on the wall right from the onset that Uganda was going to bask in glory at these Games. Daily Monitor Sports Reporter Darren Allan Kyeyune, who has religiously covered athletics across the globe, hinted that Chemutai was destined to be the dark-horse of her event after she placed fifth at the World Championships in Doha 2019.
“Watch out for her. She was fast in the heat and her body is in great shape,” said Kyeyune during Monday’s NTV Press Box show.
Another celebrated analyst of the sport Sande Alex Bashaija, also a former steeplechase runner, actually called gold for Chemutai soon after watching the 22-year-old in Doha and more recently when she registered a second-place finish in her semifinal heat on Monday.
“Chemutai’s semifinals performance might not be a big deal but the mastery she exhibited in clearing the barriers makes for some interesting entertainment,” said Bashaija.
“I have not seen a Ugandan, male or female, who eases past the barriers as effortlessly as Chemutai. The water jump barrier presents the toughest test in this 7-and-a half lap race but Chemutai is flawless. She will fly over the water barrier and land at the dry end without even stepping on the hurdle for elevation. She has mastered the art and she is worth a gold medal,” Bashaija noted before the event. But the soft-spoken Chemutai had audibly said as much to the media while she put fine-tuned for the Olympics at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole.
“My target is to run my best and come back with the gold medal,” said the history maker, last month, with her infectious smile, like her predecessor’s Dorcus Inzikuru, freely emanating from her face.
“I know I will bring it (gold). I will be happy if I carry the flag of Uganda and the anthem is sang.”
The Ugandans will be hoping that Chemutai’s feat inspires two world champions Cheptegei and Kiplimo to double their acts for tomorrow’s men’s 5,000m final.
And then maybe the authorities can gallantly tackle the rewards bit including the promised ones (car and house - the latter came but without a land title) to Inzikuru 16 years ago.
Africa Medal Standings
1. Kenya 1 2 2 5
2. South Africa 1 2 0 3
3. Ethiopia 1 1 1 3
3. Uganda 1 1 1 3
5. Tunisia 1 1 0 2
6. Morocco 1 0 0 1
7. Nigeria 0 1 1 2
8. Namibia 0 1 0 1
9. Egypt 0 0 3 3
10. Ghana 0 0 1 1
11. Ivory Coast 0 0 1 1