Athletics History Lesson - John Akii-Bua
Although he finished 4th in the 1970 Commonwealth Games and ran the fastest season time in 1971, he was not a big favorite for the ?72 Summer Olympics in Munich because he had such limited competition experience.The favorite for the 400m hurdles final was Great Britain?s David Hemery, the reigning gold medalist and world record holder. But it was the unheralded John Akii-Bua of Uganda, a PUMA athlete, arrived in Munich with no expectation except from himself and his coach. Akii-Bua was a young man who had emerged from searing poverty, living in a hovel, struggling for one meal a day. He had trained maniacally for this day and it was a dramatic contest..
Running the dreaded inside lane,Akii-Bua produced one of the great Olympic performances, eclipsing Hemery in the home straight to win in 47.82, a new world record.The win was a defining and life changing achievement for Akii-Bua, but it was to be his only Olympics and the pinnacle of his athletic career. After his win, a spectator handed him a Ugandan flag, and Akii-Bua accepted it and ran around the track with it unfurled, beginning the victor's 'lap of honor' tradition. He missed the ?76 Olympics and a show down with American rival Edwin Moses due to a boycott of African nations including Uganda..
Akii-Bua returned a hero to his homeland, became a police officer and was promoted byUgandan president Idi Aminand given a house as a reward for his athletic prowess. Idi Amin, who seized power a year earlier, had already embarked on his genocide ("Africa?s unspeakable atrocity," Akii-Bua remarked later.) When the Amin regime collapsed, he fled to Kenya with his family, fearful that he would be seen as a collaborator of the fallen regime.In Kenya he was put into a refugee camp, but was ultimately freed by his sponsor and shoe-manufacturer PUMAand lived in Germany, working for Puma for 3?4 years before returning to Uganda and becoming a coach.
Akii Bua is today part of Uganda?s Primary Schools Syllabus. They teach where he was born, his struggles, and his athletic triumphs. There are streets and a stadium named after him befitting a man who delivered Uganda?s only track gold.