John Akiye-Bua, not Jean-Baptiste Okello – Agray Awori holds Uganda’s 110m hurdles record

John Akiye-Bua, not Jean-Baptiste Okello – Agray Awori holds Uganda’s 110m hurdles record

John Akiye-Bua, not Jean-Baptiste Okello – Agray Awori holds Uganda’s 110m hurdles record

The literature overwhelmingly attributes the Ugandan national record in the 110 meters hurdles to Jean-Baptiste Okello, thanks to his personal best of 14.48 seconds, which he set at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

20-year-old Okello and 21-year-old Agrei Awori represented Uganda in the high hurdles competition in Rome. The first round of the competition, then the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals and later the final, were held on the same day, 3 September 1960. The preliminary round consisted of six heats, Okello was featured in the first heat, Awori was featured in the sixth Manch. There were five to seven hurdlers in each heat and the four fastest from each heat qualified for the second round (quarterfinals). In his heat, Okello was second (14.59), therefore he advanced to the next round. Avory did not perform well, he finished fourth (15.36), but still qualified for the quarterfinals.

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

The semi-finals consisted of two heats, each with six competitors. Okello participated in the first run. The three fastest in each heat will continue to the final. Okello did not make the final after finishing fifth here (14.59).

Towards 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 Addo. The four youngsters were the only Ugandan competitors at the Rome Olympics. Among the four, only Samuel Erasmus Amukun and Agray Awori would go on to represent Uganda at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Awori would set school records in the sprints, long jump and high hurdles at Harvard University, and later became a prominent civil servant and politician in Uganda. Amukun became a prominent geologist in Canada.

Some claim that Aggrey Awori holds the Ugandan 110m hurdles record. He did complete the high hurdles in a meet and set a Harvard record of 14.2 seconds early in May 1965 at the Greater Boston College Track and Field Championships at Harvard Stadium (Editors 1965: 8). The thing is, it was 120 yard hurdles. This is very approximate, but not exactly 110 meters. Furthermore, the conditions are not recognized or ratified by an international athletics body. There was also the factor of favorable winds.

Hidden in the annals is the 110m hurdles national record that Olympic gold medalist John Akii-Bois, who also holds the decathlon and 400m national records, set at the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh. The games were held from July 16 to 25. Akii-Bua famously finished fourth here in the 400m hurdles final, the start of his meteoric rise to fame.

There will be three rounds of the 110m hurdles in Edinburgh, including the final. Each round consisted of seven hurdlers, and the fastest five in each heat would advance to the semi-finals. Akii-Bua was seeded in the first heat of three heats, he advanced to the semi-finals thanks to his fourth place finish. He finished in 14.39 seconds, apparently a new Ugandan record. There appears to be no evidence that any Ugandan has run faster than that in the event. The winner of this race was, in particular, British legend David Hemery, who won gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he also set a new world record.

At the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh there were two semi-finals in the 110m hurdles; and Akii-Bua was placed in the second, each consisting of eight hurdles. The top four fastest in each semi-final heat will advance to the finals. Akii-Bois failed to reach the final, finishing fifth in 14.43 seconds. But even that time was faster than the Ugandan record that Jean-Baptiste Okello erroneously holds (14.48)!

David Hemery will win in the final (13.99) and take gold.

Works Cited

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

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