Ugandan athletes in World University games in China


By Kefa Senoga
When 33 student athletes from 10 Ugandan universities met in July to flag off participants to a global sports competition, one of the items on the agenda was to select the team captain. The athletes were heading to China’s Chengdu city to compete with students from more than 150 countries in the World University Games. 

Santos Okabo, a Uganda Christian University (UCU) student in the School of Business, was chosen as team captain. Okabo, who had never been to a world competition, competed and guided others at the July 27-August 8 event in China.

Okabo (left) with UCU head of sports, Sam Rukaiire (middle), and another athlete
Okabo (left) with UCU head of sports, Sam Rukaiire (middle), and another athlete

Okabo says his duties as captain included representing the team and country in meetings and other leadership engagements during the games. He also was expected to report to the organizers any challenges that Ugandan team members faced during the competition.

As expected, the second-year diploma student of business administration says one of the benefits he got as team captain was the opportunity to interact and share experiences with other team leaders, including sharing contacts with some of the leading athletes from other countries.

At the games, Okabo participated in three races – sprint race of 100 meters and two relay races of 4×100 meters. In the sprint race, where he emerged 6th out of 8, Okabo says he had hoped to perform better, but that two days before the race, he got sick, largely because he was not accustomed to the food being served in China. 

He is, however, grateful that they were able to reach the finals in the 4×400 meter relay race, which he participated in with Chan-wengo Godfrey from Makerere University’s Business School, Akemkwene Peter from Ndejje University and Eyit Justine of Makerere University. In that race, the team broke the university national record for Uganda. 

Other UCU students at the competition

Okabo was not the only UCU student at the competition. Olipa Sharif competed in two races of 200 meters and the 4×100 meter relays. However, he and his relay teammates did not make it to the next round. 

Okabo (back, left) during the relay race
Okabo (back, left) during the relay race

The third UCU student at the competition was Nyamahunge Jacent, who got eliminated in the semifinals. In the preliminaries, Nyamahunge had emerged third in the 100 meter race for women. The athletes said UCU supported them by financing their requirements while in the camp, including paying for their air tickets.  

According to Timothy Kabuye, the coach of the student athletes and one of 20 officials who went to China with the Ugandan athletes, the team could have performed better. 

“Nyamahunge Jacent made it to the semifinals in her category even with a foot injury, Okabo ran a personal best while Olipa ran the second fastest best time in the 200 meters that he participated in,” Kabuye explained.

Next on the calendar of the UCU athletes is the Uganda inter-university competitions set for December.

Olipa Sharif and Santos Okabo after the race
Olipa Sharif and Santos Okabo after the race

At the Special Olympics World Games held in Abu Dhabi in 2019, Nyamahunge won Uganda its first gold medal in the 200 meters race, beating her closest challenger, Mayak Kimura of Japan, by more than four seconds in a lopsided race. 

She is also a double gold medalist in the 200 meters and 100 meters at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. 

The other Ugandan institutions that had students at the event in China were Makerere University, YMCA, Bishop Stuart University, Gulu University, Ndejje University, Kyambogo University, ISBAT University, Makerere University Business School and Victoria University.

Okabo says he has been an athlete throughout school. While at Amuda Primary School in northern Uganda Okabo says he emerged the best runner in the Dokolo district, earning scholastic materials and a mattress as a gift. 

“After my primary education, I joined Dr Obote College Boroboro in Lira district on bursary. Upon joining UCU, I was also given a bursary,” Okabo explained.

He says his parents — Otile Oscar and Apollo Milly — were good runners during their youthful years, and so are four of his seven siblings.