Sixteen years ago, Dorcus Inzikuru ended Uganda’s wait for an athletics world title at the World Championships in Helsinki – Finland by winning gold in the inaugural women’s 3000m steeplechase race.
Inzikuru became a national obsession – with her name becoming normal parlance for anything to do with running.
There was another world title in 2019 with Halimah Nakaayi at the Doha World Championships but there has always been an anxious and insatiable wait for a women’s Olympic medal.
Yesterday, at the ongoing Tokyo Olympic Games, steeplechase blessings struck the Pearl again as Peruth Chemutai tore apart the field in the last lap to win the country’s first gold at the 2020 Games.
“Has she won?” Inzikuru enthusiastically quizzed as soon as this reporter informed her that he was calling to talk about Chemutai.
The former world champion clearly missed the event apparently “caught up in a meeting” for her Inzikuru Legacy Foundation but had since passed on her blessing. “That is very good because Peruth has great technique and a bright future. Congratulations to her and the nation. We should continue to support the team and pray for them because they can bring more medals in the next few days,” she added.
It was not just the first gold at the ongoing Games. Chemutai became the first Ugandan woman, not just in the athletics discipline, to medal since the country started taking female participants to these Games in 1964 with Irene Muyanga (100m and 200m) and Mary Musani (80m hurdles).
Uganda first took female athletes to Tokyo 1964 and it has taken for the Games to return to the Japanese capital – 56 years later – for them to earn their first medal. And what a medal to start with! In between, Ugandan women have kept widening their scope and trying to change their luck with Los Angeles 1984 presenting the first entry for middle distance entry in Evelyn Adiru.
There have also been attempts to cast the net wider to other sports, albeit those with slimmer or no medal chances, starting with; table tennis’ Mary Musoke (Barcelona 1992), archery’s Margaret Tumusiime and swimming’s Supra Singhal (Sydney 2000). This year, Uganda also sent its first rower Kathleen Grace Noble and female boxer Catherine Nanziri.
Back to athletics; Inzikuru had been to Athens 2004 before Helsinki but as a 5,000m runner and first entered the Olympics steeplechase at London 2012 – aged 30 and past her career peak.
Chemutai, then 18, entered the Rio 2016 steeplechase but finished 7th in her heat (9:31.03) and therefore did not make the semis. However, five years in a long time as the 22-year-old showed by clocking a new national record 9:01.45 en route to winning gold.
“I am also very happy that the medal came from steeplechase because, unlike other races, it has not attracted many women yet.
“Now things can change. But we will need coaches to encourage athletes to take it on as many fear it because it has a lot of injuries.
“We shall also need the government to increase the budget to identify talent at the grassroots,” Inzikuru, who has worked with coaches like Benjamin Njia to train athletes at UPDF, Police, Prisons and Uganda Wildlife Authority, added.
TIMELINE TO OUR FIRST ‘FEMALE’ OLYMPIC MEDAL
August 2021: Chemutai becomes first Ugandan woman to win a medal at the Olympics.
July 2021: Uganda widens scope with Kathleen Noble and Catherine Nanziri becoming first rower and female boxer respectively to take part in the Olympics.
2016: Chemutai competes in first steeplechase run at the Olympics.
2016: Juliet Chekwel becomes Uganda’s first female participant in the Olympic 10,000m.
2012: Inzikuru enters Olympic steeplechase for the first time.
2012: Jane Suuto was also first female marathoner at Olympics.
2004: Inzikuru becomes first female long-distance runner (5000m) at the Olympics
2000: Uganda widens scope with participants in archery (Margaret Tumusiime) and swimming (Supra Singhal)
1992: Uganda delves further than athletics with table tennis entrant Mary Musoke
1984: Uganda debuts into Olympics middle distance athletics with Evelyn Adiru
1964: Uganda sends first female athletes Irene Muyanga and Mary Musani to Olympics.