Athletics

Remembering Uganda’s first ever Olympic gold medalist

On 2nd September 1972 in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, the great Akii Bua astonishingly won the 400m hurdles race in new world record of 47.82seconds beating Britain's David Hemery record set during the 1968 Mexico Olympic games

David GOMBE

As the World celebrates the International Olympic day, Swift Sports Uganda remembers the first Ugandan to win gold at the Olympic games John Akii Bua.

Akii Bua was born on 3rd December 1949 at Abako, Lira in a family of 43 children from one father.

The iconic athlete started his athletic career as a 110M hurdler but was moved to 400M hurdles by his British coach Malcolm Arnold and director of coaching in Uganda. After finishing fourth in the 1970 Commonwealth games and running the fastest season time in 1971.

Briefly on Akii Bua’s Legendary athletics coach Malcolm Arnold

Malcolm Arnold OBE was born in Northwich, England on 4th April 1940
He was an athletics coach working for UK Athletics and its predecessors. During his coaching career, he guided athletes to more than 70 major medals. He retired from coaching on 31st December, 2016 after 42 years of continuous service. In fact he has attended every Olympic games since Mexico City in 1968.

Malcolm Arnold receives a IOC award

Akii Bua was not a big favourite for the 1972 Munich global games due to limited competition and inexperience.

Akii-Bua revealed in his handwritten notes upon which a 90-minute documentary film entitled, “The John Akii-Bua Story: An African Tragedy” his based, that on the night before making history in Munich, he drank a whole bottle of champagne, provided by his British coach, Malcolm Arnold, to help him sleep.

On 2nd September 1972 in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, the great Akii Bua astonishingly won the 400m hurdles race in new world record of 47.82seconds beating Britain’s David Hemery record set during the 1968 Mexico Olympic games.

Akii Bua during the 400metres hurdle race in Munich

American Ralph Mann finished second with a time of 48.51 sec and Hemery this time settled for bronze in 48.52 sec.

The Ugandan who was just 23 years old became the first African to win Olympic gold in an event under 800m. He also became the first man in the World to win the 400metre hurdles in just 48 seconds.

Back home, Akii Bua who was a Police officer was promoted by then Uganda President Iddi Amin and given a house as a reward for his remarkable achievement at the global games.

He later won gold at the 1973 All Africa Games in Lagos, Nigeria, and a silver at the 1978 All Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria. Akii Bua did not defend his triumph at the 1976 summer games due to Africans withdrew, protesting against the refusal of the International Olympic Committee to ban New Zealand from the Games because of its sporting links with apartheid South Africa.

He however had a chance to reclaim his throne at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but his journey ended in a disappointment as he was eliminated in the semi-finals.

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, he failed to advance in a trial heat though he still run under 49 seconds.

The Ugandan who was just 23 years old became the first African to win Olympic gold in an event under 800m. He also became the first man in the World to win the 400metre hurdles in just 48 sec

The legendary Akii Bua in MunichOn 20th June 1997, 25 years after the Munich glory, the legendary Ugandan died at Mulago Hospital in Kampala aged 47 from abdominal complications. At the time of his death, he was interim assistant commissioner of Police in charge of welfare and community affairs. He survived by eleven children.

In 2019, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to construct an international sporting facility on the 18 acre land in Erute Parish, Lira District in memory of the country’s first Olympic gold medalist John Akii-Bua.

Currently, a perimeter wall surrounding the latrine and the pavilion have initially been built by the government.

At least $125m (an estimated Shs459b) is needed for the construction of the facility which would have an international aquatic centre, indoor gymnasium, stadium, training field, and hotel.

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