Uganda a rising star on international athletics stage

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Kampala, Aug 23 (IANS) Twenty-year-old Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei ran his heart out at the recently concluded International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships in London.

At some point during the 10,000m race, it was thought he was going to beat Olympic and World champion Mohamad Farah but he lost by a micro second, bagging a silver, reports Xinhua news agency.

A few weeks earlier, again in London, David Emong put up a thrilling sprint taking gold in the men’s 1,500m T46 final at the World Para Athletics Championship.

Cheptegei and Emong are the latest Ugandan stars that have acclaimed international fame.

Behind this fame, there is a story of trials and tribulations. Training on empty stomachs and at times with no appropriate gear like shoes, the athletes persevere focusing on winning a medal some day.

Some, with a financial muscle, cross to neighboring Kenya to train alongside the country’s giants in the sport.

Over the years, these efforts backed with political will have started paying off. At the 2012 London Olympics, Stephen Kiprotich won the east African country gold at the marathon race. He brought back the ‘sweet memories’ of the 1972 Munich Olympics where John Akii Bua won gold in the marathon race.

Kiprotich told Xinhua in a recent interview that he draws inspiration from the country’s previous world medal winners like Dorcus Inzikuru and Moses Kipsiro.

“I always wanted to succeed and make life of my family better and I knew that I had to win medals and money. I have achieved that and life has changed,” Kiprotich said.

Cheptegei told Xinhua that for him, carrying the national flag high at international events satisfies him.

“I have won cash at events, the president (Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni) rewarded me with a car, but what matters to me is really representing Uganda,” he said.

Juliet Chekwel, another Ugandan athlete who had qualified for the IAAF World Championship, but missed out because of injury told Xinhua that Uganda has continued to improve in athletics because of more exposure at international championships.

“These days we compete in several events around the world and this is helping us improve and become better on the world stage,” she said.

Dominic Otuchet, president of the Uganda Athletics Federation argued that the improved management of athletics in the country explains the recent successes at international events.

“We plan really well for athletes and have signed memorandums of understandings with some camps around the world like Tuscany Training Camp, Siena in Italy and all this has brought about better changes,” Otuchet said.

He said that political will at the highest office in the country has been and continues to be a critical factor in the successes.

The president’s office has started rewarding athletes who win medals at the international stage. They are given a motivation token of $1,350 for a gold medal, $850 for a silver and $500 for a bronze medal. This is paid monthly once an athlete wins a medal at any international event.

Otuchet said this has motivated the athletes because they know once they win a medal they will receive a monthly stipend.

Although Uganda has not reached the level of Ethiopia and Kenya who have made winning medals at international events a norm, Otuchet is optimistic that one day the east African country will join the club of the big powers in athletics.

The government is constructing a state of the art high altitude training facility in Bukwo in the eastern part of the country. It believes that once the facility is completed, the country will win more medals.

Charles Bakkabulindi, minister of state for sports told Xinhua that while rewarding athletes is good, it should not be the sole motivation. He argued that athletes should instead focus on hard work.

–IANS

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