Of Uganda’s 25-man team, five of six athletes have already bowed out of medal quests in swimming, rowing and boxing at the on-going Tokyo Olympics.
And as it appears, the onus is on the 19 runners to end the country’s nine-year medal wait for an Olympic medal in Japan. Athletics has delivered Uganda’s last two medals at these quadrennial Games and owing to this pedigree and the numbers, Day 1 of track and field business in Japanese capital is a big subject matter.
After Albert Chemutai had endured the hurdles and water in the men’s 3000m steeplechase Heats, middle-distance running pair of Halimah Nakaayi and Winnie Nanyondo will be next on track at the National Stadium for the 800m Round 1 Heats in the early hours of tomorrow. Nakaayi won the 800m title at the Doha World Championships in Qatar two years ago and she is bidding to claim a successive championship gold over the two-lap distance.
Going all out
“I am going to give it my best,” she said in a recent interview following a workout in company of Nanyondo and Ronald Musagala in Tokyo. “The preparations have been going on very well. I am sure this is the right time to do great things,” she added.
Nakaayi’s season looks to be peaking at the right time after she beat her own national record by a microsecond to 1:58.03 despite finishing seventh at the Monaco Diamond League in France on July 9.
Her coach Addy Ruiter reckons Nakaayi, who also won bronze at the 2019 African Games, has matured tactically. “She is better than ever and shows in Doha 2019 that she can make the right tactical decisions in the race,” the Dutchman said.
Meanwhile Nanyondo, a bronze medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, has gone through a wave of changes since switching base from Kampala to Europe.
Prior, she painfully finished fourth in the 800m final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and again in Doha. And whereas she’s yet to beat the two-minute barrier this year, her mind set appears just right.
“Finally in the Tokyo Olympics 2020, we have to enjoy every moment in life and be great to the Almighty God,” she posted via her Facebook page.
However, the 800m field looks to be stronger than it was two years ago. The pair will be up against a much improved field which has in-form lot comprising Cuban Rose Mary Almanza, Jamaican Natoya Goule, German Katharina Trost, Ethiopian Workua Getachew, Australian Catriona Bisset and Canadian Melissa Bishop.
Eyeing the podium
Then, there is British pairing of Keely Hodgkinson and Jeema Reeke as well as American trio of teenage world leader Athing Mu, Raeyvn Rogers and Wilson Ajee all who are eyeing the podium come Tuesday’s final. Rogers and Ajee won silver and bronze respectively behind Nakaayi in Doha.
Nakaayi stopped in the semi-final Heats on her Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Games while Nanyondo struggled in the Round 1 Heats.
Meanwhile, debutant Chemutai will become the third Ugandan man after Benjamin Kiplagat and Jacob Araptany to feature in the water-jump race at the Olympics.
After battling illness, the 21-year-old has a season best time of 8:23.65 implying he has his work cut out in case he’s to make the seven-and-a-half-lap race final due Tuesday.
“I expect he will go through to the final, it will not be easy because there are many athletes that have run between 8:15 and 8:20,” said Spaniard Monica Pont Chafer, Chemutai’s manager.
WOMEN’S 800M AT THE OLYMPICS
Rio 2016: Halimah Nakaayi (Semis 6th, 2:00.63), Winnie Nanyondo (Heats 6th, 2:02.77)
Sydney 2000: Grace Birungi (Heats 5th, 2:03.32)
Barcelona 1992: Edith Nakiyingi (Heats 7th, 2:03.55)
Los Angeles 1984: Evelyn Adiru (Heats 6th, 2:07.39)