By Louis Jadwong
As we enter the final days of the London 2012 Olympics, there is as expected a huge debate on the performance of the Ugandan team. Also, questions have been asked in the past week if Davis Kamoga warrants special attention.
The quality of the two debates could be higher if two articles written in the Team Uganda Olympic magazine three weeks ago had been essential reading before London 2012.
The first, by leading columnist and writer Charles Mutebi, and the second by Mark Namanya who is head of the Uganda Sports Press Association (USPA).
Inzzi brings smile back, but Kipsiro the one to watch
By Charles Mutebi
Uganda took 15 athletes to the Olympic Games four years ago. This time, the number is 16.
Still, 12 of Uganda’s 16 are Games newcomers, who, as usual, are carrying with them plenty of promise for the future. England-based Jamila Lunkuse, Uganda’s sole female swimmer is 15 years. There are two other teenagers in the team; the sole weightlifter Charles Ssekyaaya (18) and the self-assured up-and-coming steeplechase talent Jacab Araptany just close to making 20.
The gifted Annet Negesa is 20 and four other runners – Benjamin Kiplagat, Abraham Kiplimo, Geofrey Kusoro and Stephen kiprotich – are all 21.
Point is, if all these youngsters are good enough to participate at the Olympics now, they should be good enough to contend four years on.
Granted, age is just a number but some numbers look better than others. Some achievements are also bigger than others and winning gold at the World Athletics Championships is supposed to be bigger than mere qualification for the Olympics. But in Dorcus Inzikuru’s case, it is not so cut and dry.
Inzikuru’s gold in the 3000m Steeplechase at the 2005 World Championships is the biggest achievement for Ugandan athletics since John Akii Bua yet her qualification for the London Games is an incredible personal achievement.
There is obviously nothing so remarkable about a Ugandan athlete reaching the Olympics, it is the fact this athlete is Dorcus Inzikuru that is amazing. That is, Inzikuru, the 30 year-old mum, who has spent the last seven years fighting sickness, domestic storms, financial turbulence and questions about her mental equilibrium.
The Inzikuru who waltzed to gold at the Junior and senior World Championships, not to mention the Common Wealth Games, was a true national hero, even inspiring a hit single. That Inzikuru was loved. But thanks to her struggles, she had become forgotten.
Her place had been taken by a victim of circumstances, a tragic figure left with little to offer than good memories and a hearty smile.
Turns out, Inzikuru had a lot more to offer. Turns out she was too talented to depart without one last hurray, one counterpunch in the teeth of her demons.
News of Inzikuru reaching her maiden Olympics two weeks ago passed without much fanfare but make no mistake this is a comeback.
Inzikuru may not be a medal hopeful but she is the perfect illustration of the power of hope. London does not promise much for Uganda but if there is one reason to believe in the impossible, it will be right there in Team Uganda, smiling and smiling.
Moses Kipsiro is the man carrying Uganda’s medal hopes again and at 26, his stamina should be stronger than ever. If the double Common Wealth champion should return with a medal, he will rightly be Uganda’s hero.
Still, it will be hard to completely overshadow the Arua Gazelle.
Kamoga – Johnson was like Bolt
By Mark Namanya
There is no nostalgia when Davis Kamoga recollects his heights on the track as a Ugandan athlete in the 90s. Indeed you would be hard-pressed to extract words of resentment from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist.
During this interview however, Kamoga’s tone portrayed a star who ascension to the world stage suffered because it coincided with the era of the greatest quarter-miler of all time.
There are no regrets from him; just blunt observations about Michael Johnson.
“I don’t know how I can describe him,” says Kamoga.
“He was how you see Bolt (Usain) today. His name was on everyone’s lips in Atlanta. He had this effect on the Games that ensured that all cameras were on him.”
Kamoga, a runner up to Johnson at the 1997 World Athletics Championship, silver medallist in Athens, Greece, can’t forget the American’s demeanour before races.
“He never spoke to people before the race. He only spoke after the finishing line.”
“To him, it was as if a race was war. Every race was a battle field.”
No one will ever know whether Kamoga would have won Uganda gold at the Olympics or World Championships had he competed against everyone but Johnson.
In Athens, he was beaten by Johnson and Roger Black.
One year later, a much more confident and well-conditioned Kamoga set a national record of 44.37 seconds that still stands en route to winning that famous silver.
“He (Johnson) was a great runner and a true competitor, with an eerie feel that intimidated those against him,” emphasises Kamoga. Those are words that Bolt’s rivals today would concur with.
Perhaps Kamoga’s air when discussing the other opponents of the time paints a picture of what would have transpired without Johnson.
“The twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison were decent, as well as Roger Black,” he recalls. “But they weren’t Johnson.”
Ironically Johnson’s box office appeal was conspicuously missing when he raced in Europe, according to Kamoga, now a MUBS sports tutor.
“It is one of those things you can’t explain. Yes, Johnson was still popular. But he didn’t command the appeal he enjoyed when in America.”
Kamoga met Johnson when the latter visited Uganda in October, 2006. The five-time olyimpic gold medalist enjoyed a sprint with youngsters during his visit to COBAP in Nakulabye.
“He came for charity and asked what I’m doing. At the time, I was as occupied as I am today.”
“I told him we have no academies and projects to nurture athletes but the country was working towards setting up a countrywide programme to develop the sport.
He told me he had opened up a sports center in Texas.”
Kamoga has routinely expressed his reservations at how the sport has been managed since retirement.
Looking back at his own career, he doesn’t seem to harbour thoughts of what he should or should not have done.
He was the second best to one of the greatest athletes that ever lived. That is an honour in itself, one that Kamoga will cherish forever.