Olympics 2020: Uganda's Ambala must fight

D-Day in the pool. Ambala made his Olympic bow in the 100m freestyle Heat today. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • TODAY | 1PM 100m freestyle Heats

Swimmer Atuhaire Ambala has it all to do in today’s 100m freestyle race at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan.

The race is the only one for the 20-year-old swimmer in Tokyo but comes after a tough period in which the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic disrupted his training and limited him to just one major competition (Cana Swim Camp in May) since the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, where he scored 659 Fina points to qualify for the Olympics.

Ambala, Daily Monitor has learnt, was that “second member of Team Uganda” reported to have contracted Covid-19 after boxing coach Patrick Lihanda, when the team arrived for camp in Izumisano, Osaka, in June.

The swimmer’s plans and momentum had initially been affected when his coach Muzafaru Muwanguzi had to pull out of the Osaka travel plans because he had not yet had his second Covid vaccine jab.

Muwanguzi believes “Atu should have never travelled to Osaka at a time when it was clear I was not going with him.”
The 20-year-old had been gradually returning to shape, owing to sessions with his coach at Hotel Africana, after missing training and competition for most of the time the world had been in lockdown in 2020.

“Yes, he got the disease and has not trained well for three weeks. However, we have tried to fix him as the most important thing is to ensure he does not get stressed or eaten up by the situation,” Muwanguzi said.

“We all know that he is a very disciplined swimmer who can give the results you need but he has to fight for it more now.”

Tough heat

Ambala will compete in the second heat of the 100m free event and amidst his fight for form, he will still be watched with keen interest as this is only the second time a male Ugandan swimmer is attempting this event at the Olympics.

When Uganda first took part in Olympic swimming (only her fourth discipline after athletics, boxing and hockey) in Los Angeles 1984, Daniel Mulumba wrote his name in history by returning a 1:07.86.

It took 16 years and four Olympics for someone to re-attempt the distance. Female swimmer Supra Singhal then went for it at Sydney 2000, managing 1:08.15. 

Most of the other swimmers except Jamila Lunkuse (Rio 2016) and Joe Atuhaire (2000), who both went for 100m breaststroke, have always settled for 50m free.

“I am proud to see him break the ball and try something new,” 2016 Olympian (now an engineer in San Francisco, US) Joshua Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza said – emerging as an unlikely cheerleader for Ambala.

“I hope putting his foot forward shows how far our swimming is going in terms of thinking about the sport wholistically. Jamila did it too in Rio and Atu will now do an honest assessment of where he is and where he wants to go.”

Ambala’s progress

Ambala first went to the Youth Commonwealth Games in Bahamas in 2017 as a mid-distance swimmer but spent most of 2018 and 2019 in Thailand on a Fina Scholarship where he re-oriented himself into a sprinter.

He was selected for the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju alongside Tendo Mukalazi, Selina Katumba and Avice Meya,w and the All-Africa Games in Morocco with Rebecca Ssengonzi in 2019.

In Gwangju, he competed in the men’s 50m and 100m freestyle events, leaving him as a front runner for a universality slot at the Olympics. 

Ugandan men at 

2016:     J. Tibatemwa    50m free    25.98
2012:     Ganzi Mugula    50m free     27.58
2008:     G. Kaburu    50m free    27.72
2004:     E. Luberenga    50m free    27.77
2000:     Joe Atuhaire    100m B’stroke    1:22.35
1984:     D. Mulumba    100m free    1:07.86

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