Judith Ayaa and athletic performances: Africa, Commonwealth Games, Olympics, and Pan-African Gathering-USA. USA

Judith Ayaa was born on July 15, 1952 in the Koch Goma sub-county in the Nwoya district of Uganda. During an era when African women’s participation in athletics was in its predominantly nascent and amateur stage, the young Ayaa became a resonant name among African athletic stars. Ayaa became the first Ugandan woman to win a Commonwealth Games medal. There are three medalists from the Uganda Commonwealth Games who followed in their footsteps: Ruth Kyalisiima (Kyarisiima / Kyalisima) in Brisbane in 1982, where she won silver in the 400m hurdles (57.10), gold medalist Dorcus Inzikuru in the 3000 meters. -steeplechase in Melbourne in 2006, where she set an Games record (9: 19.51), and bronze medalist Winnie Nanyondo, who was third in the 800m (2: 01.38) in Glasgow in 2012.

Judith Ayaa’s career on the track would be short-lived, if significant.

Judith Ayaa’s record at the East and Central African Athletic Championships is staggering. In 1968 (Dar-es-Salaam), Ayaa won gold in the 100-meter sprint, finishing in 11.5. The following year, in mid-August 1969, Ayaa cemented and confirmed his formidability by winning in the same championships (Kampala) the 100 meters (11.8), the 200 meters (25.0) and the 400 meters (53, 6). Jane Chikambwe, considered an athletic legend in Zambia, won silver behind Ayaa in the 100 and 200 meters. Here in Kampala in 1969, Ayaa was part of the Uganda 4x100m relay team that won in 49.5. In the same year, based on her personal best time of 53.6, Judith Ayaa was ranked in the top 10 400m runners in the world.

In 1970 at the same ECA Championship (Nairobi), Judith Ayaa was not far behind. The slim young woman with the “Mercedes-Benz” bodywork won again in the 100 m (11.8), the 200 m (24.1) and the 400 m (54.0 s).

It was at the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1970 that Judith Ayaa established herself as an international female athlete to be reckoned with. At these Games, Judith Ayaa remarkably competed in the 100 and 400 meters. On July 17, Ayaa placed in the first of five preliminary 100-meter heats. She performed reasonably well, finishing second, behind Australia’s Jenny Lamy, at 11.92 seconds. But the semifinals, the next day, were not so fruitful for Ayaa. She placed in the second of the two semi-final heats, and was defeated in sixth place (11.93) and eliminated from advancing to the final. The finals, later in the day, were won by Raelene Boyle of Australia, followed by the legendary Alice Annum of Ghana, and then Marion Hoffman of Australia for the bronze medal.

There were far fewer competitors in the 400m, so there would only be two rounds of competition. On July 22, Ayaa was placed in the second of two first-round qualifiers. Ayaa won in a relatively staggering time of 52.86 seconds, a new record in Uganda and Africa. Ayaa’s completion time placed her in 11th place in the world in 1970. Alice Annum, who was scheduled to compete in the same round, did not participate.

Ayaa advanced to the final to be played the next day. But maybe she had run too fast instead of running while relaxed, but enough to be in the top four of each round that she would automatically qualify for the final. Sandra Brown from Australia was second, and a complete second behind Ayaa. The other semi-final series in which Marilyn Neufville won at 53.05 was one of more relaxation and tact.

The next day’s final saw diminutive but legendary 17-year-old Jamaican Marilyn Fay Neufville win in a world record of 51.02. Neufville won by a staggering more than two seconds ahead of Australian silver medalist Sandra Brown (53.66); it lowered the previous world record of 51.7 set (1969) by Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos, both from France, by almost a second. Judith Ayaa, outmatched after slowing down near the end of the race, probably due to fatigue after her unnecessary effort in the semi-finals, was third (53.77) in a photo-final behind Sandra Brown and captured the bronze medal. Fatigue had probably cost him at least the silver medal; But the Commonwealth bronze would be one of Ayaa’s most acclaimed international possessions!

Marilyn Neufville’s magnificent career would be short-lived due to minor physical injuries and surgeries. At the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, Neufville was sixth in the 400-meter final. And at the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal in Canada, he participated in the first round of the 400m and qualified for the next round, but did not advance to the next round due to injuries.

The next big event for Ayaa would be July 16-17, 1971 at Duke University’s Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham in North Carolina. It was the USA versus Africa and Rest of the World Meet (sometimes referred to as the US-Pan African Athletics Meet). The event that drew a large capacity crowd of a total of 52,000 spectators was a unified African team along with other nations (fourteen nations in total) against team USA. Perhaps the main attraction was the Olympic gold medalist. 1500m Kipchoge Keino, who was revered and known for his rivalry on the track with American middle distance legend and 1500m world record holder (3: 33.1) Jim Ryun. Here at Duke, Keino intended to break this world record.

Other internationally renowned runners in the competition were Kenyan Amos Biwott (Olympic steeplechase champion) and Tunisian long-distance legend Mohammed Gammoudi. Ugandan hurdler John Akii-Bua from Uganda, who was hardly known internationally, was also there to compete.

Judith Ayaa won the gold medal at these Pan African Games in the United States in 54.69. Second was Gwendolyn Norman (USA) from Sports International at 55.42, third was Jarvis Scott (USA) from the Los Angeles Mercurettes at 56.0, and fourth was Titi Adeleke (Nigeria) at 59.52. John Akii-Bua won at the intermediate hurdles, setting an African record (49.0) that would be the world’s fastest time for 1971. The smooth sailing “flying cop” Akii became a competitor for the upcoming 1972 Olympics in Munich. Simultaneously, Ayaa gained international recognition, though not at the level of Akii. Kip Keino failed to break the world record in the 1500m, but he clearly led and finished with an excellent 3: 34.7.

John Myers tunes in the comments of Akii-Bua, here sometimes referred to as “John Akii-Buba” (1971: 6A): “The riders were good … The track is fast. It was not uncomfortable.”

Other notable competitors in the track and field competition were Americans Rodney Milburn and Ron Draper (tall hurdles), Kenyans Robert Ouko (800m) and Benjamin Jipcho (steeplechase); Steve Prefontaine (USA) and Miruts Yifter (Ethiopia) in the 5000m and John Smith (USA) in the 400m.

Still in 1971, at the Central and East African Championships held in Lusaka in Zambia, Ayaa was the winner in the 400m (54.7). He was also part of Uganda’s gold medal winning teams in the relays: 4x100m (48.7) and 4x400m (3: 50.5).

The next big challenge for Ayaa, the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, would be interesting. In the first round, Ayaa in lane two came in fourth place (52.85s), thus qualifying for the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, Judith Ayaa was tied in lane 7 in her run two of four runs. The first four finalists in each series would advance to the semifinal. Ayaa finished comfortably third and set a record in Uganda and Africa of 52.68. Uganda’s record, Ayaa’s best personal record, would stand for more than three decades. It is noteworthy that in these quarterfinals, Ayaa beat 26-year-old French Colette Besson, the diminutive surprise winner in the same event at the previous Olympic Games (1968) in Mexico City. Besson was in lane 3 and her fifth place disqualified her from advancing to the next round.

Ayaa went on to the semi-finals of the Olympics. He was in lane 2 and finished in 52.91 seconds, a seventh place. Ayaa had put on quite a commendable performance, but the international competition was formidable and Ayaa was eliminated in what would be her first and last Olympic competition. The eighth competitor, Christel Frese from West Germany, fell during the race and did not finish.

In 1972, Ayaa became a 4-time gold medalist in the 400 meters at the East and Central African Championships. This time, in Dar-es-Salaam, Ayaa’s victory time was 55.7. He was part of the Ugandan team that won the gold medal in the 4x100m (48.7).

After 1972, Ayaa’s performance record would become mediocre. He married and began having children in close succession and neglected sports. Amin’s tumultuous regime made matters worse. The athletes received much less financial compensation for their effort and injuries than they have been in recent decades. Ayaa’s disappearance was far from glamorous; it was disheartening. At some point in her life, while caring for her two young children, Ayaa struggled and sometimes begged on the streets of Kampala. She would crush stones for a living. Akii-Bua, also Ayaa’s national teammate at the 1972 Olympics, would be instrumental in gaining attention and intervening in Ayaa’s plight. She was located and a European benefactor helped with the expenses. Unfortunately, in 2002 Ayaa died young at the age of 48 or 49, at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Ironically, Akii-Bua, who was also unwell at the time, had died at roughly the same age as Ayaa, in early 1997 in the same hospital.

Ayaa’s reign on the women’s track was brief but superb and long-lasting. National and regional trophies and competitions in northern Uganda have been commemorated by the name of Judith Ayaa.

Cited works

Myers, John. “Score Winning Hosts at Pan-African Gathering” in “Carolina Times” (July 24, 1971).

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