Arua Gazelle lit the world with her infectious smileBy ISMAIL DHAKABA KIGONGO for the Daily Monitor | Monday, May 14 2012 at 14:48
A race that involves steeplechase is perhaps the one that easily represents all our journeys in life. It is something Ugandan Dorcus Inzikuru ought to write a book about.
The circuit she runs has four ordinary barriers and one water jump. Over 3000m, each runner must clear a total of 28 ordinary barriers and seven water jumps.
This entails seven complete laps after starting with a fraction of a lap run without barriers.
The water jump is located on the back turn, either inside the inner lane or outside the outer lane. The barrier height is 914 mm (36in) for men and 762 mm (30in) for women. Unlike those used in hurdling, steeplechase barriers do not fall over if hit; some runners actually step on top of them.
This slope rewards runners with more jumping ability, because a longer jump results in a shallower landing in the water. Sound very technical, doesn’t it? To master it had to take someone as special as Inzikuru.
Once in a while, life is a happy straight path before you jump a barrier as high as the ones in steeplechase. For Inzikuru, it’s much more. The success of any athlete is judged at either the quadrennial Olympics or the biennial World Athletics Championships.
In Uganda’s case, John Akii-Bua, Leo Rwabwogo, Eridadi Mukwanga and Davis Kamoga belonged to their own galaxy, until the little-known girl from Arua arrived.
Prior to the turn of the millennium, Inzikuru, who would later be defined by her trademark smile, had dominated all youth events here.
Her venture to the continent didn’t yield instant reward as she finished sixth at the 1999 All African Games in the 5000m and eighth at the World Youth Championships.
Like many sportsmen, the toughest barrier comes when its time to turn promise into medals.
Inzikuru made the transition by winning Gold at the 2000 World Junior Championships in Santiago, Chile ahead of Ethiopian Meseret Defar in the 3, 000m. She also finished 10th in the cross country, a competition many long distance athletes use to improve their endurance.
Gold was supposed to become the basis upon which should be judged. Missing out on the podium places at the 2002 Commonwealth Games represented a setback. At the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, she finished behind Defar and country mate Tirunesh Dibaba, two of the greatest female runners of all time.
The warning signal of a world star on her way to the top, just 1.56m, was there but many missed it – beneath the innocence was a caged fighter no one dared to explore.
When steeplechase became a World Athletics Championship event in 2005 for the women, Inzikuru swiftly changed. The smile was now complemented by a new nickname – Arua Gazelle. The biggest disadvantage that awaited was her height and short strides.
Inzikuru, 23 at the time, defied all this to win Uganda’s first ever Gold medal at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
It remains the only gold since as Moses Kipsiro came close with bronze at the 2007 event in Osaka, Japan.
Despite being a veteran on tour by 2005, Inzikuru still had the primary school innocence. She only became aware of the $60,000 prize, about Shs150m at the prevailing rates today, after winning the final. “I want to use the money to build a house and help young athletes,” Inzzi said. Politicians jumped to recognize.
Parliament moved a motion upon her triumphant return that had everyone at Entebbe Airport notice and athletics enthusiasts rushed to receive her. Consequently, President Museveni issued an order to the army to build her a house and this was done.
There was nothing the daughter of an Anglican priest couldn’t achieve as she was the best at evading barriers that steeplechase offered.
The third of eight children, but lost her two older brothers at the ages of eight and fourteen, to typhoid and malaria. Growing up in Vurra, Arua District in West Nile, Inzikuru had overcome adversity which must have made the race hurdles appear lower.
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