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Before Eliud Kipchoge, there was John Akii-Bua

Akii-Bua in action. He was the first man to run the high hurdles under 48 seconds as he won Uganda’s first Olympic Gold medal in 1972. The only other Olympic gold has been from Stephen Kiprotich, in the marathon in 2012. FILE PHOTO via David Isabirye | Kawowo Sports

Kampala, Uganda | LOUIS JADWONG & AFP | Kenyan ace Eliud Kipchoge looks set to become the first man to run Marathon’s 42.195 kilometres in under two hours today October 12, 2019 in Vienna.

“This is about history,” he said at the pre-race press conference on Friday. “It’s about leaving a legacy. It’s about inspiring people.”

“Breaking the two-hour marathon barrier would be like man landing on the moon,” he said. He added that it would “show to the world that when you focus on your goal, when you work hard and when you believe in yourself, anything is possible.”

Kipchoge’s bid to create a “moon-landing” moment by running a historic first sub-two-hour marathon brings back memories of someone who actually “landed on the moon” before  — Uganda’s John Akii-Bua.

On September 2 1972, Akii-Bua did something no other man had done before. In the Olympic Stadium in Munich, Akii-Bua was drawn in Lane One for the 400m hurdles. At 4.31pm local time, he won the gold medal in an astonishing new world record time of 47.82 sec, three-tenths of a second under the world mark set by Britain’s Hemery in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

He was the first man to run the high hurdles under 48 seconds;  first African to win gold in an event under 800m, and of course Uganda’s first Olympic gold winner.!

In winning, Akii Bua,23, became the first East African athlete ever to set a world record either in the Olympics or in any other international athletics meet and the second African to do so after Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Bikila won the Tokyo Marathon in 2 hours 12 minutes.

Akii Bua doing his thing in an event considered highly technical

While Kipchoge’s attempt is being scrutinised because of the type of shoes he is going to race in, there was no such farce for Akii-Bua, as it is said, he broke the record “in a pair of shoes he’d worn for two years and run down that one spike was missing.” (read Kiphcoge profile page 2)

More remarkable, was he run that final from the inside lane – considered the least favorite position in the one lap race.

The Akii Bua secrets

Kenyan superstar Kipchoge, who holds the marathon world record and is reigning Olympic champion, sounds very confident , having come close to breaking the two-hour barrier when he was 25 seconds too slow in another staged run, at Italy’s Monza race circuit in 2017.

Usually, by the time such professional athletes make the attempt, they have already either beaten or come close to the record in training before.

It is said that months before John Akii-Bua broke the 400m hurdles world record at the 1972 Munich Games, he had already come very close to the mark several times in training at Wankulukuku and Nsambya grass tracks. This after he returned from high-altitude training in Kabale with his British coach Malcolm Arnold.

His coach Malcolm Arnold kept it a secret from the world for obvious reasons. The only media house that knew the potential Akii-Bua was taking to Germany, was Kampala sports magazine Recorder, that predicted a record.

Akii-Bua went on to shatter the world record, becoming the first man to run under 48 seconds.

Akii-Bua was one of the geniuses among athletes, according to his British coach Malcom Arnold

“While other runners were gasping for breath at the end of the race, the 6′ 2″ Ugandan skipped, jogged, jumped round the track – even leaped over a few more hurdles – on his victory lap. He is recognised as the inventor of the victory lap.”

He returned home to a jubilant nation. Then President Idi Amin Dada promoted him in police, for which he was running, named a street after him in the city, and gave him a car and house as prizes.

Because of international politics, with Africa pushing for the liberation of South Africa, he missed the 1976 Olympics and a showdown with United States rival Edwin Moses because of the boycott by Uganda and other African nations. Edwin Moses went on to set a new world record in 1976 and to reign until Kevin Young became the first man to run under 47 seconds in 1992.

Akii Bua died an unhappy man in 1997, a lesson for many of today’s Ugandan athletes who have now wisely invested heavily in their future, and life after sports. (follow live feed page 2)

One comment

  1. Also, Kipchoge Keino (Kenya) once held the world record in the 3000 meters flat.

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