Kabale. It is high and cold. Twice a day I ran six times up a 600-meter hill,
always with my heavy coat. I had two coaches at that time, Arnold and George
Odeke. They gave me a program, but I did more than they asked. I don't think it
was natural to do as much as I did, but I grew strong." John Velzian of
Kenya, who has coached Koskei, has one word for Akii-Bua's pre-Munich regimen:
possessed you?" I asked.
Akii put aside
the remains of his chicken and cleaned his large hands in a finger bowl.
"We don't have good facilities. Only a grass track. It takes months to get
spiked shoes sent from Europe. For three or four years no one in Uganda was
good enough to represent us overseas. I wanted to change that, to show that
Uganda could also produce good athletes, like the Kenyans. I wanted to show
that if we had the facilities the Ugandan people would be as good as any
other." He was silent for a while, sipping his beer. When he spoke again it
was in a less ringing, more offhand tone. "There are always many reasons
why someone does something well. Of course, I wanted to run in the Olympics
because of my future, but you have to understand about being from a small
country. I had a chance to be the first champion from Uganda. I worked
Akii-Bua went to
Europe over a month before the Games and polished his speed over the hurdles.
"I think it is better to always combine sprinting and hurdling in training
if you want them to go together in the race. So for a week I sprinted over 200s
with five hurdles. Then 300s with seven. Then two weeks over all 10. Six days
before the competition I did a time trial: 48.6. I was relaxed. I didn't think
of beating any individual when I trained. I just thought of the gold. Oh, I
watched the others in the heats. They seemed tense and tired-looking. I thought
Ralph Mann's hurdling technique was cuckoo."
The feeling might
have been mutual. Mann of the U.S. and most other world-class quarter-mile
hurdlers lead with their left legs. This allows them to run on the inside of
the lane. Akii-Bua often leads with his right. To avoid violating the airspace
of the man to his left he must run at least two feet out from the line, and
landing on his right foot tends to throw him even farther from the inside of
his lane. His disadvantage around two turns can be as much as four yards.
There were other
reasons why the odds seemed against Akii. A week before the Games he had a
tooth extracted and it still was bothering him the morning of the final. He hit
the first hurdle in his semifinal, giving himself a tender, swollen knee.
"I didn't report anything to my coaches. I was afraid they would say I was
The world record
of David Hemery of Great Britain (48.1), set in a flawless race in Mexico, was
thought to be unapproachable in the thicker air of Munich, yet Akii, with all
his aches, predicted 47.5 for himself. Then he was presented with the lane
assignments for the final.
"When I saw I
was in Lane One, I was very disappointed," he said. The more sharply curved
inside lane is despised by all one-lap runners. "I went through emotional
stages," said Akii. "I went behind the stadium on the day of the race
and listened to music on American Armed Forces Radio. I became determined, not
sad. After that I just tried to be calm. I ran over hurdles outside the stadium
and got very warm so I could relax before the start."
Akii hit the
sixth hurdle in the final, but his calm resolve carried him past Hemery just
before the eighth. He beat Mann by a good five yards in 47.8.
deeply moved. "That is not just a world record," he said. "It is an
incredible world record. Out of the worst lane, running 12 feet farther than
anyone else, hitting that hurdle hard.... The man's strength is simply