A young man breaks loose from a pack of runners , he sets a distance between himself and the rest of the athletes, he’s near the finish line and he knows it. With a few more strides he crosses the finish line and he is confirmed as the U20 IAAF World Cross Country Championships winner.
By winning gold at an acclaimed international event, Jacob Kiplimo, 16 made history on Sunday doing what the other seniors had failed to not just anywhere but at home, here on familiar territory.
Three days later he’s a celebrity and the soft-spoken boy from Kapchorwa has smiled at the flashlight of more than a hundred cameras, the same trend was visible in 2012 when an unknown athlete (Steven Kiprotich who almost failed to travel with the olympics team) bust onto the scene to win gold at the London Olympics.
At the time many promises were made then to Kiprotich and athletics as a sport, a high altitude training ground, more funding and other forms of support were pledged for the sport with the view of identifying and grooming more “Kiprotichs”, four years later and the promises are still on their way.
Kiplimo did us proud and as much as I would like to continue with this joy filled honeymoon where Uganda are champions, its impossible not to recognize the fact that when an athlete like Kiplimo, Kiprotich and even the now forgotten Kipsiro brings honor for the country, it’s barely a national effort.
Far from it, a major athletics honor is down to individual brilliance, hard work and sometimes even a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) – as was the case with Kiprotich who was aided by “A Running Start” who allowed the long distance runner to train while in Kenya also facilitating him in numerous ways.
Athletics in Uganda lacks adequate funding which manifests in the absence of training centers, equipment, professional trainers and facilities among others- a fact that forces our best crop of athletes into neighboring Kenya to tap into facilities that they can’t access in the country.
It’s not only alarming but also shaming to us as a nation that our athletes have to go and train from Kenya where they individually meet their own expenses yet at the end of the day a major honor or medal has Uganda sprayed all over it.
From the very suburbs of Kampala stretching north to the mud-thatched villages of the north, the winner and his medal are a symbol of national pride, we are all able to bask into the recognition it earns us as a country, yet when it comes to the investing in the sport, only verbal promises can be heard.
The government needs to prioritize and invest in athletics by setting up the right facilities to support the sport along with adequate scouting mechanisms because its my subjective opinion that we have way too many talented athletes practicing and waiting for a chance to make us proud.
Celebrating victories we had no hand building is the most grande form of hypocrisy that a sport governing body and a national government can ever exhibit.