How Can I Get My 3 Year Old In School Vitus Ashaba: Uganda National Records at the Olympics, and the Race With Kipchoge Keino and Jim Ryun

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Vitus Ashaba: Uganda National Records at the Olympics, and the Race With Kipchoge Keino and Jim Ryun

In late August of 1972, Ugandan middle distance champion and rural hunter Vitus Ashaba aged 29, flew to Munich with the crop of Ugandan athletes and boxers to represent the nation at the Olympics in Germany. Also registered to compete in both the 1500 meters and the 3000 meters cross country chase were legendary Kenyan Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino, and the then unheralded future Tanzanian legend Filbert Bayi Sanka. One of the most anticipated Olympic 1500m doubles would be the one between “Kip” Keino and America’s greatest high school and national middle distance runner James “Jim” Ryun who held the world record.

Four years earlier at the Olympics in high and -hot Mexico City, a little sick and tired but not scared Keino, against the advice of a doctor, persisted and used team tactics with training partner Benjamin Wabura Jipcho to initially tire fellow competitors and then finally. run away to win the 1500m gold in an Olympic record time (3:34.91). It became too late for eventual silver medalist Ryun (3:37.89) to catch up, and at the finish line he trailed 20 meters behind Keino.

A 50th anniversary milestone was recently celebrated when Jim Ryun reflected on the 3:58.3 national high school record in the mile that he established on May 15, 1965, at the Kansas State High School Meet at Wichita State University’s Cessna Stadium. It was also a new Kansas State record. Furthermore, the 3:58.3 still stands as the record in a mile race that included only high school students. Earlier in 1964 Ryun, as a junior, still at East High School, became the first national high school student to break the 4 minute barrier – 3:59. And even more, in San Diego at the American open championships at the beginning of June 1965, 18-year-old Ryun still in high school, established a new American record (3:55.3) while he shocked the world by beating a New Zealand legend and a triple. Olympic gold medalist Peter Snell. As a national high school record, the 3:55.3 would stand for nearly four decades until Virginia’s Alan Webb’s 3:53.43 on May 27, 2001 at the Oregon Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Ryun began taking competitive athletics seriously just two years before he began setting the many middle distance records that would include world records established in 1967 in the 1500m (3:33.1; Compton-Los Angeles) and the mile (3:51:1; Bakersfield, CA). Ryun as a youth was rejected by youth baseball, softball, and even track teams. But devout Ryun had faith in church and God, and humbly prayed for fulfillment in life. Jim Ryun’s shoulders were broad and bony, his knees were long and bony, all on a 6’2″ lean 165 lb. frame. Perhaps his greatest disadvantage was his vulnerability to bouts of illness and physical injury. At the Olympics (1968 ) when 21-year-old Ryun lost to 28-year-old Kip Keino, he had just suffered a mild bout of mononucleosis that put a question mark over whether he would compete in Mexico City.

The relatively lean Ugandan Vitus Ashaba (5’8″, 130Ib) was positioned to run the Olympics 3000 meter steeplechase in Heat One of four preliminary heats of the first round on September 1, 1972. That first round also included both Africans 32-year-old Kip Keino and 19-year-old Filbert Bayi who would also compete in the 1500m.Tapio Kantanen of Finland, aged 23, won (8:24.8) in a new Olympic record.Keino finishing second (8:27.6) , along with Japan’s 24-year-old Takaharu Koyama (8:29.8), also qualified for the next round which would be the final, but although Bayi who finished ninth (8:41.4) and Ashaba who finished tenth (8:45.0) would not advance. to the final, both times were Tanzanian and Ugandan national records. And 8:45.0 would forever be Ashaba’s personal best. It would also be intriguing that in the fourth heat on the same day, Kenya’s Amos Biwott, who won the Olympic gold .four years earlier in Mexico City, would win and reduce the Olympic record to 8:23.73 e not from cou. many hours On September 7, Kipchoge Keino, running in an event in which he rarely competed, would surprisingly win the Olympic gold in the relay in a new Olympic record (8:23.64). That was his second Olympic gold at the same time as Olympic records! Kipchoge initially planned to compete in both the 1500m and 5000m, but the 1972 Olympic schedule would have made that very difficult. Also, only 32-year-old Julio Faustino Quevedo Elias of Guatemala, just two months older than Keino was older than him among the male steeplechase competitors of the Munich Olympics. Filbert Bayi Sanka, who would beat Keino in the 1500m at the All-Africa Games held in Lagos in January 1973, was the youngest among the 1972 Olympic sprinters. Second in the final was legendary Kenyan Ben Jipcho (8:24.62), and the bronze medalist was Finnish Tapio Kantanen (8:24.66).

Ashaba was hoping for better results in the 1500m. Here, there would be a first round of heats on September 8, the qualified would move on to the two semi-final heats held on September 9; and the final would be on September 10. The First Round consisted of seven heats whereby the first finishers in each heat, along with the next two overall fastest would move on to the semi-finals. Ashaba was placed in Heat Four which included Keino and Ryu. This would show the fastest heat among the preliminary rounds. The race began, and as typical, Ryun bided his time waiting for an explosion near the end of the race. But it wasn’t to be. About a lap before the end of the race, and an accident between Ashaba, Ryun and Ghanaian William “Billy” Fordjour who ran in close proximity occurred (Associated Press 1972). Ashaba’s recovery was cut short by Ryun who ended up colliding and falling with the Ghanaian. Ashaba left, albeit slowly. It is not clear who caused the accident, but it appears to have been an accidental collision between runners in very close proximity. Many blame Ryu for the accident. Ryun blamed Ashaba. It was too late for Ryun to catch up in such a short race. Keino won (3:39.97), and together with Rod Dixon of New Zealand (3:40.03), Gunnar Ekman of Sweden (3:40.40), Klaus-Peter Justus of the German Democratic Republic (3:40.44), and Gianni Del Sweden’s Buono (3:40.78) was the semi-finalists of Heat Four. Ashaba was 8th, but still managed to set his personal best and a new Ugandan national record – 3:45.2. Ryun finished 9th (3:51.5), and Fordjour last (4:08:2). Keino comforted his arch nemesis. Ryun blamed Ashaba for the accident, and appealed for reinstatement. His appeal failed to materialize, and that ended Ryun’s run at the Olympics. As for Vitus Ashaba, the international sports world would mostly remember him for the accident with Jim Ryun.

Keino would move on to the semi-final round which included three heats on September 9. He won the second heat. Heat One was won by compatriot Mike Boit. On September 10, at the final, Keino was passed and upstaged near the end of the race by the Finn Pekka Vasala who won the gold (3:36.33). A disappointed Keino was second (3:36.81), Rod Dixon won the bronze (3:37.46), and 23-year-old legendary Michael Kipsubut “Mike” Boit who won the 800m Olympic bronze on September 2 was fourth (3:38.41 ).

Not much was heard of Vitus Ashaba after the 1972 Olympics. He died in 1985, in his early forties, and was survived by widow Joy Namata and five children – Dorothy Nshemereirwe, Gerald Mugume, Julius Barinjura, Humphrey Tumushabe, and Chris Tunanukye. . . Ashaba was buried at his ancestral home in Kyegwisha Village in Ibanda District, Uganda.

Works cited

Associated Press. “Accident Brings Ryun Bid to End”, in “Spokane Daily Chronicle” (September 8, 1972).

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