John Akii-Bua of Uganda, pictured in 1975 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Kampala, Uganda

Uganda to remember Olympic hurdler John Akii Bua

The Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) will organise a track and field meeting in which the UAF will recognise the achievements of the country’s only Olympic gold medallist John Akii-Bua, at the Namboole stadium, near the capital Kampala on Saturday 17 June.

Akii-Bua was the first Olympic champion for Uganda who started his athletics career as a high hurdler (110m), coached by British-born coach Malcolm Arnold, who introduced him to the 400m hurdles.

In 1972, Akii-Bua arrived at the Olympics city of Munich early to acclimatise and registered a time-trial of 48.8sec that boosted his confidence ahead of the Games.

Nevertheless he went ahead and won the final, setting a world record time of 47.82 seconds, making him the first man ever to run under 48 seconds in the 400m Hurdles.

Akii-Bua was denied the opportunity of defending his Olympic title at the Montreal Games in 1976 and other subsequent Olympic Games due to a boycott by African nations in 1976, as part of protests against England's rugby team travelling to then apartheid South Africa.

The government of Uganda then did not appreciate the attention the athlete received, however, and placed him under house arrest. After missing the 1976 Olympics because of the African boycott, police officer Akii-Bua was even arrested. The political turmoil in Uganda during the overthrow of Idi Amin's dictatorship in 1979 brought a temporary lull to Akii-Bua's athletics career.

Eventually, he was freed. He was supported by his shoe-manufacturer Puma and lived in Munich, Germany until the regime of Idi Amin ended in 1979.

He attempted a comeback in 1980, competing at the Moscow Olympic Games, but he could only manage to finish seventh in his semi-final.

He appeared at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games 12 years past his prime performance, and competed in a trial heat, not advancing, but still running under 49 seconds, a time that, despite his age and lack of conditioning, was still respectable.

On June 17 1997, the legend was laid to rest in his ancestral village in Lira, Northern part of Uganda after he suffered from a long illness. Akii-Bua was accorded a state funeral due to his Olympic Gold. 

Although he no longer lives, Akii-Bua is still considered a champion of his people and a national hero; Akii-Bua is no doubt the only Olympic champion in Uganda. His name lives on in development funds that bear his name and the legacy still lives.

Kiprop meeting's headliner

Meanwhile UAF intends to turn the invitational meet into an invitational permit from next year in which international athletes will be invited to participate. The UAF intends to extend his legacy to Africa and beyond. 

"The sport of athletics in Uganda is proud to pay tribute to and celebrate the life of a true sportsman of the Golden Sport. The late Akii Bua's achievement does not only inspire track and field athletes but he is and will remain an inspiration to athletes from other sports, both contemporary and future," said Beatrice Ayikoru, General Secretary of the UAF. 

Athletes will compete in more than 15 track and field events that will be dominated by the 400m hurdles which will be the main cause of the day.

The UAF will use this event to select the Ugandan team that will be participating at the 11th World Junior Championships scheduled for 15-20 August in Beijing, China, and the Africa Senior championships in Mauritius.

Commonwealth 10,000m champion Boniface Kiprop is expected to be among the competitors of the day when he clashes with the Eastern Africa and national cross-country champion Isaac Kiprop in the men’s 10,000m. Ugandan runner Waiswa Lukungu who competed at the Commonwealth in Melbourne will try to emulate Akii-Bua when he competes in the 400m hurdles, and event that has been unpopular in Uganda since the retirement of Akii-Bua.

Daniel Senfuma for IAAF (Daily Monitor)

Fact file -
Name: John Akii-Bua
Place of Birth: Lira
Date of Birth: December 3 1949
Died: June 17 1997
Achievement: 1972 400mH Olympic gold medallist