Last month represented perhaps the highpoint of highpoint of Ugandan where athletes in two separate sports managed to grab the world’s spotlight. One involved the Olympics, the other the Little League World Series; we’ll stick with the Olympics.
First, let’s have a short class on Uganda.
Uganda is an East African nation which achieved independence from the British Commonwealth in 1962. It is an incredibly poor nation; its per capita income is $477 a year. As a comparison the average per capita in the U.S. is $41,663. It’s a rural, tribal country. For most Americans the first mention of Uganda would conjure thoughts of Idi Amin the man who strong-armed his way to power and was made famous (infamous) in 1976 with the Entebbe hijacking/ rescue of Israeli citizens.
Anyway, back to sports.
Uganda has never been known as an Olympic powerhouse. Since 1956 Uganda had racked up a grand total of 6 medals 4 of which were for boxing. No medals awarded since 1992 and no gold in 40 years. There was nothing to indicate that their rather dismal record was going to change.
On to the stage stepped 23 year old Stephen Kiprotich.
The odds on favorites were (surprise, surprise) the Kenyan and Ethiopian teams; the American squad consisting of Ryan Hall, Meb Kelfezighi, and Abdi Abdriahman were in contention for a medal.
The course was not ‘customer-friendly’, in an effort to squeeze in as many of London’s historic landmarks along the 26.2 miles the course was riddled with 111 turns and 4 u-turns. Cobblestone paving along the route presented footing issues. Finally, a late start time, giving the heat and humidity a chance to build all but assured no world record times.
Currently the fastest certified Marathon time was 2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds run 2011 in the Berlin (Patrick Makau/ Kenya). The Boston Marathon has a faster time recorded (2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds run by Geoffrey Mutai/ Kenya) but there are certification issues that would run too long for this blog. Finally, the fastest Olympic Marathon was accomplished in 2008 (Beijing) at a time of 2 hours 6 minutes 32 seconds (Samuel Wonjiru/ Kenya- sort of a pattern).
Back to Stephen..
While an accomplished marathoner perhaps Stephen’s smartest choice was to train in Kenya. Not only do you get a chance to run with the best but high altitude training would naturally create an energy-rich’ blood.
The marathon started before a massive crowd. In fact along most of the course people were 8 to 10 rows deep.
By mile 12 the three eventual medalists had broken from the pack.
By mile 23 the race was his, the Kenyans had to accept Silver and Bronze.
What about the Americans? Hall dropped out near mile 11 shortly followed by Adriahman; Kelfezghi came in 4th place (at age 37 not bad to be the fourth fastest man on the planet).
Stephen crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours 8 minutes 1 second. While a few minutes (which is an eternity in distance running) off either the World or Olympic method you would have to run a sub-5 minute mile every mile to keep up with him!
BTW- There was a Boilermaker connection to this year’s Marathon. David Katz who officially measured the London course is the chute coordinator for the Boilermaker.