What you need to know:
Retiring Early. Ali Ngaimoko has retired from the track after more than 15 years representing the national team. His retirement was calm but not expected as his specialist events in the sprints have less competition. But having been chosen the leader of Police Athletics Club while working on side hustle as a sports kit supplier, the Arua-born athlete has called time on his career which many believe was more of potential than what he actually fulfilled on the track. He demanded that the interview be conducted from Namboole Stadium from where his career started although it ended in Gold Coast when he was wheeled off after an injury. He spoke to George Katongole about his decision and the next step in his career.
Why did you retire and what does it mean for you as a person?
Enough is enough. I have tried all I could in track and because of responsibilities which have come to me I may not get enough time. I can no longer concentrate on training. I now feel that I should look forward to nurturing fresh talent. Right now I am looking forward to having a multi-sport academy involved mainly in football and athletics based in Arua. I am happy that I was involved in administration even before I retired. I have served as the athletics representative for about five years and the experience I got, I was chosen to be part of the technical committee. I feel at home and work closely with the federation on particular assignments.
What are your major career highs?
It might sound funny but I have fully used two passport books. I have been to so many countries chasing my dream of becoming a famous runner. I have seen it all. I have been to Grand Prix events, the Commonwealth and continental games. Unfortunately, I have not won an Olympic or Commonwealth medal. But it is fulfilling to take part in such global competitions. Locally, I have won gold twice in 2010 and 2014 in Kenya in the 200m and 400m, also silver in 2009 and European circuits where I won in France, Italy, Montenegro. In Africa, my highest level was when I reached the finals in the African Championships in 2012 in Benin. After Benin we went to Accra, Ghana where I got a hamstring injury. It is one of the things that reduced my speed. Recently when we were in the Commonwealth Games in Australia it was still the same injury. I could train and actually be fit for competition. You know competition is very different from training. In training you repeat the runs. The coach is always looking at how you meet the split times. But in competition you have one full blast that you have to give your best all the way. Whenever I put 100 per cent speed, I don’t finish. Either I tear the muscle or end up slowing down. That kept running in my mind and that is why I decided to start supporting the young generations to see how good they can be.
What is your biggest memory?
They are two I should say. There is a sad one and a good one. The saddest is always touching. I trained very well here for the Grand Prix race in Khartoum. The same day my dad was very sick in Arua Main Hospital and I was talking to my mum about his health. That was the last time I spoke to my dad. Immediately I landed in Khartoum, I was told my dad passed on. There are two things my dad told me when I spoke to him the last time. He told me to be at peace with my sisters and brothers and take care of them. Before I left I did not have money on me but after winning I had money on me. The only thing I did was to join mourners in the last prayers at home. It makes me feel very bad wishing I had the money before I had left. Maybe I could have given my dad to console myself because he did a lot for us. Unfortunately, things did not go the way we wished. That is why I love my children. Losing my dad at the time I was beginning my life, is a really sad story. I believe I should deliver everything I am supposed to do for them before I leave this world.
The happiest moment that I had was when I was invited to go and represent the country for the first time in 2008. That first time has remained an emotional part of my running career. Luckily I performed well in the East and Central Africa Championships. Madam Beatrice Ayikoru gave me the good news on the phone. She told me to go and give it my best. By then I was still divided between football and running but that moment changed everything. It was the beginning of my athletics career.
With your personal best times of 10.5 in 100m, 20.7 in 200m and 46.2 in 400m most analysts believe you could have performed better. What do you think?
I think they are very right because I am one person who tends to make life comfortable for myself and I take responsibility for many things. That alone can hinder one’s performance. But the injury was a big upset to my career. It disturbed me too much and time came when I would feel I was actually damaging my leg every time. It is very sad that I am actually leaving running. I feel very bad. My mind tells me it is not time to retire. I can do something better but my leg cannot allow me to reach that level. I have been leading 100, 200 and 400 metres for some time but time came when my challengers closed in. There came a time when I felt I should not run. My colleagues could joke that I was shying away. That sometimes gave me courage to come and beat them. But there came a time when they posted better times. In life, you have to accept and move to the next part of your life. Now there are guys who are putting in better times.
At the moment, 100m is becoming very competitive because I see good boys coming up, especially Tarsis Orogot and Benson Okot. They are also doing well in 200m. In 400m, Haron Adoli and Leonard Opiny are doing so well. If they’re helped, they can take it to another level.
What is the best advice you can give to upcoming athletes?
You know running is funny. I would tell them not to be proud when it is their moment. Once you disrespect people such as coaches and opponents, you are doomed. I have been running here and I had no personal rivalries. They generate uncomfortable scenes. When you defeat someone, move and shake hands with them and move on to the next race. If we are from the same team, I can tell them the following day where they lost it and life continues. Right now most of the people I have run with call me. One of the big boys is Isaac Makwala from Botswana. He calls me and shares excitement when he wins. He used to beat me with 40 metres to go and ended up advising me on what to improve especially split times and kicking. I learned that sharing with colleagues helps you improve. Pride aside, and wear discipline as your uniform.
As a sprinter, short races have not been prioritised. Could you have performed better if you had been given fair attention?
True. But to some extent it is down to us as sprinters to get organised. I would propose that the sprinters get more support to facilitate training. We need a system that supports them. When you go out, you realise we need a gym. This should be done for field events too.
The months leading to your retirement, you were involved in the equipment supply business. From one branch in Kibuli to another at Kamu Kamu Plaza. Is it the reason you could not concentrate anymore?
This business is what I am going to use to support the young athletes. I have been supporting athletes by giving them some equipment. I could agree with the coaches set up some times and whoever beats the time gets the gifts. I am looking at Lactic Sports Centre as a way of helping the young athletes. Although I am in business, I am aware that many young people fail to make it because of equipment. I want to bridge that gap. It is important for athletes to think of the time when they cannot be able to earn from their effort on the track. But I am not only in business. I have been appointed the manager of the Police Athletics Club. This is important for me to grow into administration.
What would you want to be remembered for?
A man who inspired at least one athlete to become famous. It is a dream for me for someone to stand up one day and say I did a part in their development. Even the people I work with in Lactic pass on their gratitude but I want to be able to do more. Through sport, one can be able to live a good life and I want to be the anchor that takes someone there.
As a boy, what did you dream of becoming?
A film actor. I love action movies. Probably I thought I could be one of the actors. Time came when I found I was a good footballer. I was a good striker at Arua Public Primary School in 2002 yet I was always winning in athletics. I took athletics because it was easier to board planes and good enough I was accommodated well. Whenever you could win, there was an opportunity to go abroad and represent the country.