- FAILURE TO EXCEL. Few countries are more adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a skill Ugandan athletes have turned into an art form.
- The rare successes of immortalised legends John Akii-Bua and Stephen Kiprotich are the exception, not the rule. Our Sports editor Mark Namanya relives the heartaches.
The DNA for failure is an element that is deeply rooted in the genetics of Ugandan sport with the country today owning a myriad of capitulation tales too many to exhaust in these pages.
Few countries are more adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a skill Ugandan athletes have turned into an art form.
The rare successes of immortalized legends John Akii-Bua and Stephen Kiprotich are the exception, not the rule.
If in doubt, how else for instance would you classify Uganda’s U-19 cricketers’ all-time collapse to Kenya in Nairobi last weekend? It looks more unimaginable with every passing remembrance of what actually happened.
The only way Kenya could have qualified for the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand next year was if a biblical miracle occurred. And what soon unfolded is near-equivalent of the phenomenal did-it-really-happen stories mostly associated with the book of genesis.
Baby Cricket Cranes scenario
Needing to lose by an obscene margin to miss out on the World Cup, Uganda did exactly that.
All odds were against Kenya. And the gods too appeared to be Ugandan when Franco Otieno’s team won the toss. But by time the seventh bat was sent for a shower, Uganda had put on a meagre 32 runs – a mediocre hit for many an opening batsman.
Once the team was 60 all out in just over 17.1 overs, Uganda had completed half the job of one of the most unprecedented collapses in the history of sport in the Pearl of Africa.
The job would be wrapped up by Kenya in 8.3 overs, allowing the old enemy to sneak through to the U-19 World Cup backdoor in the tiniest of holes.
It was a spectacular heartbreaker that matches the Uganda-Kenya 2011 Afcon qualifier for the sheer magnitude of the plunge from home to despair.
Back then, 50,000 Cranes fans made the way to Namboole in the knowledge that Uganda was one home win away from a first Nations Cup appearance in 33 years. Nationwide parties had been prepared all over the country with the beating of Kenya viewed as a formality.
Uganda Cranes endless woes
Instead Cranes missed chance after chance and departed Namboole to deathly silence which was interspersed with bucket loads of tears from fans and players.
That 0-0 draw remains one of the most painful results in the history of football in the country.
One year later, Uganda again went great lengths in emulating the agony of the Kenya encounter when reigning African champions Zambia visited Namboole. Cranes took the Chipolopolo to post-match spot kicks whose winner would qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
Typically, Patrick Ochan and Andy Mwesigwa missed from 12 yards to leave Uganda as football’s nearly team.
In 2003 before a capacity Namboole, Uganda inconceivably conspired to lose 1-0 to Rwanda in a game famed for a juju fracas that caused play to be held for more than two hours.
Cranes had beaten Ghana and drawn away in Kigali to garner four points from the opening two qualifiers. Victory at home to Rwanda would have put Uganda within a whisker of Tunisia 2004 considering that it was a three-team group.
Still, Uganda Cranes found a way of making a mess of a simple situation.
The reverberations of SC Villa’s elimination by AS Aviacao in 2003 continue to be experienced by the Jogoos 13 years later.
Micho Sredojevic’s Villa had won the opening leg in Luanda 2-1 and basically needed to avoid defeat at home to move within one opponent of becoming the first Ugandan club to play in the money-spinning stages of the Caf Champions League. Villa led for almost the entire game before being felled by goals from Arsenio Cabungula and Helder Vicente, the second goal arriving well inside stoppage time.
It remains one of the more discomforting results of Micho’s impressive career on the continent.
Rugby is another sport that has been witness to its share of painful reverses.
None, however, remotely compares with Robert Seguya, now national team coach, missing a penalty that would have given us a 6-5 win over Morocco in 2006.
By failing from a not so prohibitive angle, Seguya extinguished the 2007 Rugby World Cup dream of one of the strongest national teams in recent memory.
It was thus little surprise that the following year the Rugby Cranes became African champions.
Talking African champions, let’s rewind to 2013 to recount how Jas Mangat let go of an Africa Rally Championship (ARC) crown that had looked wrapped up for most of the season.
When Mangat in a Subaru N12 triumphed in the Pearl of Africa Rally, it is probable that the engraver sought the trophy to start fixing the Ugandan’s name on the crown. Come the penultimate race in Rwanda, disaster struck. He blew his engine and allowed Zambia’s Jassy Singh the faintest of hopes in the ARC race.
Those faint hopes would soon turn into a championship for the Zambian when he scored maximum points in the Rally of Madagascar while Mangat failed to add to his tally. It was a cruel end to a hugely promising campaign and a crestfallen Mangat failed to emulate Charles Muhangi, Uganda’s only ARC title winner.
Mother of all capitulations
To save the worst for last is to mention the names of 20-year-old Joshua Cheptegei.
His place on the wall of fame of Ugandan capitulations is definite.
Before a partisan crowd in the senior men’s race at the 42nd edition of the IAAF World Cross-Country at Kololo in Kampala, a dominant Cheptegei captured the hearts of millions of Ugandans when he built a lead so formidable pre-race favourite Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya was out of sight.
Then the Ugandan curse befell him at around the 9000m mark. All of a sudden, the seemingly impregnable Cheptegei turned into cabbages as runner after runner sped past his slowing, awkward zombie-like frame.
His implosion will be relived for ages for the manner in which Cheptegei somehow turned cast-iron gold into 30th position out of 146 competitors.
Boxing. Five Bombers who, after a fine run to the semis of the 2015 African Championship, all failed to reach the final. As if by design, all their air tickets could not allow them in Morocco beyond the semi-final day. Such was the haste that by the quarterfinals, some were already evicted from the hotel and the semi-finalists could not wait for their bronze medals; they returned with fake ones.
Paralympics. Christine Akullo’s failure to step on the London 2012 Paralympic track, following a combination of fever and mood swings. The visually-impaired sprinter was Uganda’s medal hope after clinching gold at the 2015 All-Africa Games.
Penalty Miss. Adam Ssemugabi’s penalty miss against Nigeria put paid to Uganda’s chances of reaching Tunisia 1994. From 12 yards, he blasted Uganda’s chances of qualification far and wide.
KCCA Fairytale. Mike Mutebi will smile within, wondering how he narrowly escaped a dishonourable mention after his offensive tactics were duly punished by a polished Club Africain performance last week. Instead of respecting the Tunisians, Mutebi attempted to put out fire with fire. The end result was a 4-0 annihilation that ended KCCA’s otherwise wonderful season.