By today afternoon, even the most optimistic Ugandans were mourning a disastrous Olympic campaign in London. Uganda as an Olympic sporting country was all but dead.
The epitaph appeared to have been written the previous day, when Moses Kipsiro failed miserably in the 5,000m – reportedly his favourite race.
In a bid to protect themselves from the now all-too-familiar disappointment, many Ugandans resisted the temptation to dream that one of our athletes would as much as be in contention for a respectable-place finish in yesterday’s marathon. At the offices of this newspaper, some pessimists (who can blame them?) were today morning counting the famous countries that were leaving this year’s Olympics without even threatening to win a medal – Nigeria, Israel, Ghana, Chilea, DR Congo, Libya, Sri-Lanka, Zambia, Zimbabwe – and Uganda.
As for today’s race, everyone agreed the contest for medals was going to be Ethiopians and Kenyans. Unknown to us – and to the world – one man would soon change that. Stephen Kiprotich had totally different ideas.
In a feat now already etched in Uganda’s sporting history, an achievement that will be talked about for generations to come, a success that catapulted an entire nation from a dead silence to the highest scales of ecstasy, Stephen Kiprotich ran the race of his life to win GOLD in the marathon on the closing day of the London 2012 Olympics.
The reaction was indescribable. In London, the best-selling Sun newspaper spoke of a shock win for the 23-year-old Ugandan. For many, it was disbelief. A few managed to get excited. Then it was ululation.
And disbelief again – what if he will be disqualified for something?
And then, it all started to sink in. Uganda was the Olympic marathon champion. For the first time since John Akii Bua stormed the big stage by winning the 400 metre hurdles in Munich in 1972, Stephen Kiprotich had run a race many Ugandan athletes dream of, but only a few ever run – a race of Olympic gold.
On a day remarkable for its summer heat, Kiprotich proved the hottest man in the pack. He won in 2hours 8mins 1secs. It is said that to be the best, you have to beat not just the rest, but you have to be ready to better the best. Kiprotich relegated two-time world champion Abel Kirui to second place, the Kenyan staggering home in 2:08.27 – and apparent disbelief. Fellow Kenyan Wilson Kipsang had to settle for third place.
Kiprotich had been among the top three until the closing stages, when he surged into the lead – a lead that he refused to surrender. Having trained in Kenya’s Eldoret valley, Kiprotich must have made the Kenyans feel like they were in charge. But if they ever felt in charge, he emerged – literally from nowhere – to show who was in charge.
He was. so comfortable was Kiprotich in the final stretch that he stopped to get that one thing that was high on his mind, that one thing that defines him, something to tell how proud he was of where he comes from – he grabbed the Uganda Flag and raced with it to the finishing line. It may have been our only medal, but Uganda was once again high up there with the best, on top of the Olympic world.
“Since 1972 Uganda has not won a gold medal so we’re very happy,” Kiprotich told journalists after his memorable feat – a feat that will be talked about for generations to come.
Yes, we are very happy.