John Akii-Bua

3 Dec 1949
20 Jun 1997
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John Akii-Bua (3 December 1949 – 20 June 1997) was a Ugandan hurdler and the first Olympic champion from his country.

Akii-Bua was raised in a family of 43 children from one father and his eight wives.

Akii-Bua started his athletic career as a short-distance hurdler, but failed to qualify for the 1968 Olympics.

Coached by British-born athletics coach Malcolm Arnold, he was introduced to the 400 m hurdles.

After finishing 4th in the 1970 Commonwealth Games and running the fastest season time in 1971, he was not a big favourite for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, having limited competition experience.

Nevertheless he won the final there, setting a world record time of 47.82 seconds despite running on the inside lane.

He missed the 1976 Olympics and a show down with American rival Edwin Moses due to a boycott by African nations including Uganda.

As a police officer, Akii-Bua was promoted by Ugandan president Idi Amin, and given a house, as a reward for his athletic prowess.

When the Amin regime was collapsing, he fled to Kenya with his family, fearful that he would be seen as a collaborator; this was more likely because he was a member of the Langi tribe, many of whom were persecuted by Amin, whereas Akii-Bua was cited by Amin as an example of a Langi who was doing well.

However, in Kenya he was put into a refugee camp. From there, he was freed by his shoe-manufacturer Puma and lived in Germany working for Puma for 3–4 years.

He represented Uganda once again at the 1980 Summer Olympics. Later he returned to Uganda and became a coach.

Akii-Bua died a widower, at the age of 47, survived by 11 of his children. He was given a state funeral.

His nephew is international footballer David Obua, and his brother Lawrence Ogwang competed in the long jump and triple jump at the 1956 Olympics.

The phrase “akii-buas” has come to colloquially mean “runs” in Uganda.

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