John Akii-Bua, not Jean-Baptiste Okello – Aggrey Awori holds the Ugandan record in the 110 M-Hurdles

The literature predominantly attributes Uganda’s national record for the 110-meter hurdles to Jean-Baptiste Okello, courtesy of his personal best of 14.48 seconds that he set at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Okello, 20, and Aggrey Awori, 21, represented Uganda at the obstacle course in Rome. The first round of the competition, then the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals, and then the final, were held on the same day, September 3, 1960. The preliminary round consisted of six heats, Okello entered the first round, Awori entered the sixth sleeve. There were five to seven hurdlers in each series, with the fastest four in each series qualifying for the second round (quarterfinals). In his heat, Okello was second (14.59), so he went on to the next round. Awori did not fare so well, finishing fourth (15.36), but still qualified for the quarterfinals.

The quarterfinals were divided into four heats, each series with six hurdles. The three fastest of each series would qualify for the semifinals. In the first heat, in which Okello was placed, he finished second (14.48) and thus qualified for the semi-finals. This was an impressive new record for Uganda. Awori was eliminated after finishing fourth in the third series (14.94).

The semifinals consisted of two heats, each with six athletes. Okello appeared in the first manga. The three fastest of each series would advance to the final. Okello did not advance to the final, after finishing fifth here (14.59).

Near the end of the Games, Awori and Okello would be part of Uganda’s 4x100m relay team. They were disqualified in the first round. The other sprinters were Samuel Amukun and Gadi Ado. The four youths were the only Ugandan competitors at the Rome Olympics. Among the four, only Samuel Erasmus Amukun and Aggrey Awori would go on to represent Uganda at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Awori would set school records in sprints, long jump, and high hurdles at Harvard University, and later became a prominent Ugandan civil servant and politician. Amukun became a leading geologist in Canada.

Some have argued that Aggrey Awori holds the Ugandan record of 110 meters hurdles. He finished the high hurdles in one meet and the Harvard record of 14.2 seconds in early May 1965 at the Greater Boston College Athletics Championships at Harvard Stadium (Editors 1965: 8). The problem is, he was at 120 yards hurdles. That is very approximate, but not exactly 110 meters. Furthermore, the conditions were neither recognized nor ratified by an international athletics body. There was also the factor of favorable winds.

Hidden in the annals is the national record of 110 meters hurdles set by Olympian gold-plated John Akii-Bua, who also holds the national records in the decathlon and 400 meters, set at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. The Games took place from July 16 to 25. Akii-Bua is known to have finished fourth here in the final of the 400-meter hurdles, the beginning of his meteoric rise to stardom.

In Edinburgh, there would be three rounds of 110-meter hurdles competition, including the final. Each round consisted of seven hurdles, with the fastest five in each series advancing to the semifinals. Akii-Bua was placed in the first series of three series, advanced to the semifinals by virtue of his fourth place. He finished in 14.39 seconds, clearly a new Ugandan record. There seems to be no evidence that any Ugandan ever ran faster than that at the event. The winner in this series was British legend David Hemery, who won gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he simultaneously set a new world record.

At the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, there were two semi-final heats in the 110-meter hurdles; and Akii-Bua placed second, each consisting of eight hurdles. The fastest top four in each semifinal series would advance to the final. Akii-Bua failed to reach the final by finishing fifth in 14.43 seconds. But even this moment was faster than the Ugandan record that Jean-Baptiste Okello wrongly holds (14.48)!

David Hemery would win in the final (13.99) and claim the gold.

Cited works

Editors, “Harvard Wins Again, Fiore Sets Record”. The Heights, Volume 45, No. 25 (1965): 8.

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