THE LAST TIME A UGANDAN WON AN Olympic gold medal was in 1972, when John Akii-Bua, who has since passed on, brought home the doom hurdles gold medal from the Munich Olympics. AkiiBua's legendary exploits thereafter made him a darling not only in Uganda but across Africa and the world at large. Uganda had to wait for 40 long years after AkiiBua's gold to see another Olympic gold medal-this time from totally unexpected quarters. You can therefore imagine the joy that swept over the East African nation of 35 million people when an unknown, 23-year-old, lanky Ugandan athlete with a Kenyan-sounding name, Stephen Kiprotich, defied the form book and won the Olympic marathon gold on the last day of the London 2012 Olympics.
Coming two months before the country's 5oth anniversary of independence celebrations, Kiprotich's gold has brought a special feeling that has lifted the mood of the country. The young man and his Team Uganda colleagues flew straight from London to have breakfast with President Museveni at State House in Entebbe, which is fortuitously perched on a hilltop overlooking Uganda's international airport from two miles away.
"I know some of you do not believe in God," the president said, "but for those of us who believe in God, this victory came from God. I know we didn't prepare enough." Here, the president was speaking the minds of many Ugandans who had been frustrated by the shambolic preparations that Team Uganda had been subjected to by officials, before the team emplaned for London.
One pundit was to remark pointedly that "the i6-strong Uganda Olympic team was outnumbered by the officials accompanying it, many of whom are paid five times what the athletes receive. Much of the money that was supposed to be spent on training was 'eaten'. If you don't care if your national sports team wins, then you probably won't care if your country becomes a winner".
But when Kiprotich won, everybody suddenly appeared to care. But the vociferous Kampala-based newspapers, who ran special supplements to welcome home the national hero, would not allow the officials to forget that Uganda's Olympic preparations had been tainted by infighting and government failure to fund the training of the athletes.
The lack of enough official support had forced senior athletes like Moses Kipsiro (who won double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in India two years ago) to pay for their own training in Kenya.