(Photo credit: Miriam Namutebi)
EVENT: 2017 IAAF WORLD CROSS COUNTRY
HOST: KAMPALA, UGANDA
It was a moment of firsts for Uganda. First, it was the first time ever that Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, was hosting the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Then, the country went on to get a first gold medal at this athletics event through a young man called Jacob Kiplimo to lift a nation. Joseph Kizza was at Kololo on Sunday to witness this piece of local history.
THE STORY: First, let me start from the very beginning . . .
All was set at Kololo Sunday morning as local and international media did check-one-two, check-one-two tests on their gadgets and took their positions ahead of the event
The athletics world was in Kampala. As many as 59 nations across the globe were represented here and teams had made their way into Uganda throughout the past week.
We've had some rain for the past couple of days (quite a relief for many a local) but the weather gods were kind on Sunday. Picture-perfect weather for any enthusiast. And the US team delighted in taking some team shots hours before the start of the event.
Oh yes. Perfect weather, I said. And even though it got a tad too warm for comfort for some, this photographer was certainly inventive. Quick thinking got him covered . . . or, need I say 'uncovered'?
59 countries were represented in Kampala. Yes, nine and five-tens!
The sporting event was attended by thousands of people, in various capacities. First Lady and education and sports minister Janet Museveni, Minister for Kampala Beti Olive Kamya and IAAF president Sebastian Coe gave brief remarks during the colourful opening ceremony.
IAAF chief Coe, who flew into the country late Friday, thanked all those who took part in the organisation of this edition (the 42nd) and most importantly President Yoweri Museveni and his country for hosting the event. He also thanked the participating teams and their nations for honouring the event.
As many as 557 athletes were set to compete in various races on Sunday.
Host nation president, Yoweri Museveni was at Kololo, from start to finish, and he was in the right place to witness Ugandan history being made on home soil. What a day out for Mr. President!
Uganda definitely has a lot to offer. A whole mouthful of rich culture is tucked in this one nation, and for a first timer here, you would be impressed. For instance, look at how these beautiful dancers are putting their bodies to work during the opening ceremony . . .
Even the zebras that we have in our national parks across the country would be impressed by the visual effects here. Colour and skill was a joy to watch!
Culture showcase at its best!
Fluidity. Agility. Strength. This was as good as it could get for the whole world watching to marvel at.
I watched as some watchers [not pictured] succumbed to the temptation of getting onto their feet and dancing along. Others who elected to stay rooted onto their seats still danced in their minds, I could tell. . . the musical movement of their heads from side to side surely gave them away as they watched these lovely dancers do what they do best: entertain.
Absolutely beautiful Uganda! The Pearl of Africa!
Such was the dollop of entertainment on show at Kololo Independence Ground, an establishement constructed way back in 1936. Had you known so?
POW! AND OFF WENT THE STARTER PISTOL!
The first race of the day was the inaugural mixed relay. Kenya's Asbel Kiprop, the 2007 World U20 Cross Country champion, led from the start.
And our eastern neighbours came in large numbers to rally their team on, waving the Kenyan flag as they sang songs and danced from the pavilion and along the sidelines of the Kololo course.
In the mixed relay, Kiprop proved a worthy starter for Team Kenya as he powered through to give his teammates a good lead.
For this race, Uganda fronted Winnie Nanyondo, Geoffrey Ruto, Dorcus Ajok and Ronald Musagala.
Thousands of dollars were at stake here, and every athlete knew better than not to give their all. For the team race, $20,000 was the prize money for top spot, $16,000 for second, $12,000 for third, $10,000 for fourth, $8,000 for fifth and $6,000 for the sixth finisher.
Team Kenya proved unstoppable . . .
Winnie Nanyondo, who has represented Uganda in various international events, was in contention for Team Uganda in the mixed relay.
Ronald Musagala, the 24-year-old Iganga-born athlete, ran for his country on Sunday.
Eventually, the Kenyans took the first gold of the inaugural mixed relay race, with a total time of 22.22. Kiprop gave them a good start, running 5.19 while Bernard Kipkorir Koros made life even easier for the athletics powerhouse with a time of 4.58.
Team Turkey came in third to take bronze. They had Aras Kaya, Meryem Akdag, Ali Kaya and Yasemin Can.
Team Uganda's Dorcus Ajok, who once broke a leg on her way to an athletics competition but still recovered to return to the sport, appeared totally burned out as well as relieved as she crossed the finish line in a time of 5.30.
Next up was the women's junior race (U20) . . .
For many, it was difficult to keep up with the African elite runners at the front, and so there was more room spared at the back.
The racers had three laps of the Kololo course to do, which is about six kilometres. And no doubt which nations the leading pack comprised of: Kenya and Ethiopia.
A gruelling course for sure!
This time, Dorcus Inzikuru, who won the inaugural world title in women's 3000m steeplechase in 2005, as well as the first Commonwealth title in the event the following year, was a spectator at Kololo.
Letesenbet Gidey eventually beat all to retain her women's junior title with a gold-winning time of 18.34 minutes.
Celliphine Chespol came in third to secure bronze.
Yes. Told you Uganda is gifted . . . in many ways than one!
Tough one, huh? A picture tells a thous- . . . wait a minute, it tells a million words!
Any time is selfie time . . . even in the moment of total exhaustion. Team USA knew that all too well.
Venturing into a cross country event, at any level, is not for the faint-hearted. Besides, you have got to be as fit as a Thoroughbred to do the run.
President Museveni presented the first set of medals to the mixed relay winners.
'Yes, we did it!' . . . well, don't they always, the Kenyans! In every athletics competition of such kind, they always stand out. And they did too at Kololo.
'Well done, ladies and gentlemen'!
$ome good prize money awaited the$e athlete$ $tanding on that podium.
TIME FOR UGANDA TO SHINE . . .
Anyone catch a sniff of gold wafting their way? Not sure about you, but I definitely do.
In the men's junior race, Uganda's Jacob Kiplimo made sure to stay with the leading pack as they negotitiated the log obstacles.
The large crowd watched as the racers battled on the tough Kololo course.
Kiplimo was willed on by a vociferous and ubiquitous home crowd . . .
Eventually, the 16-year-old broke away from the rest and allowed the ripples of encourangement from the lifted crowd get to him. The finish line was in sight. History was metres away. Can he? Will he? . . .
. . . of course he will. And he did. JACOB KIPLIMO STRUCK UGANDA'S FIRST GOLD IN THIS COMPETITION!
Congratulations are in order!
GOLDEN EXCITEMENT! Inzikuru knows all too well what it feels like to clinch a world gold. She has been there before. She definitely knows, and now Kiplimo does too :)
'Darling, let me also see' . . .
'Come here young man and share a moment with your president.' Kiplimo's achievement lifted a nation!
At just 16, this lad surely has a whole lot more where that came from. Uganda's future is bright, I must say. Congs for making Uganda proud. And thanks for the rest of Team Uganda for giving your all on home soil :)
I left Kololo with a renewed sense of pride for my country . . .
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