Ugandan swimmer Atuhaire Ogola Ambala will look back at the Olympics some day with a few lingering questions. He came to the big time with added pressure as no Ugandan had attempted the 100m freestyle at the Olympics since female swimmer Supra Singhal managed 1:08.15, 21 years ago at Sydney 2000 while the last male swimmer to try it out was Daniel Mulumba (1:07.86) in 1984 - the first time the Pearl took part in Olympic swimming.
But after posting 54.23 seconds in the second of the race’s nine heats at the Tokyo Aquatic Arena yesterday, he has even his usually ‘hard to impress’ coach Muzafaru Muwanguzi firmly in his corner as one of the praise singers.
Ambala first of all expected to do better. He holds the national record (NR) at 53.89 – a time he posted at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju – South Korea.
With the Olympics in Asia, the 20-year-old Dolphins swimmer, who has also trained at a high-performance centre in Thailand, was in familiar territory. Also doing the 100m instead of the 50m was good for him as someone who enjoys mid-distance swimming and carries national records in the 200m (2:01.19) and 400m freestyle (4:27.45) too. Also, there was a little East African matter of being drawn with Kenyan swimmer and longtime rival Danilo Rosafio and Burundi’s Belly-Cresus Ganira in the Olympic race.
However, a lot changed for Ambala between Gwangju and the postponed Tokyo event. His scholarship in Thailand ended just before the world was hit by the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic in 2019 putting him in an even precarious situation as his training prior to the Olympics was disrupted.
He resumed proper training in April ahead of the Cana Swim Camp in South Africa and was also part of the Ugandan team that went to Osaka for a pre-Olympics camp. Unfortunately, he could not travel with his coach, who was yet to have his second Covid-19 vaccine jab. Ambala’s fate was almost sealed when he contracted the virus with just three weeks to his Olympic race.
That is why, even though Rosafio did better winning the heat 52.54 and Ambala beat Ganira (54.33) by just microseconds in a fast race where all the top six beat the Uganda’s NR, the Ugandan can hold his head up high and say he fought his fight.
“We did the best we could and I am very proud of him,” Muwanguzi said in the aftermath of the swim.
“It was not easy because after that lost time, I was just not training but trying to fix him,” Muwanguzi added.