Meet four patriotic athletes who made country proud in Tanzania

Meet four patriotic athletes who made country proud in Tanzania
Four South Sudanese athletes arrived home after participating in Tanzania. [Elvince Joshua, City Review]

A muscle contraction that attacked 80 metres to the finish line in the men’s 200m race held last weekend in Tanzania denied Riiny Agoth Ngot what could have been a new national record in the history of South Sudan athletics.

Riiny, who trains in Uganda with the Makerere Athletics Club, was headed for a historic victory, or so he thought, until a muscle pull slowed him down at the tail end of the race.

Though he eventually won silver for the nation, the 18-year-old Information Technology (IT) student at Saint Lawrence College (Kampala), believes that he could have broken or at least equalled the national record-if he had a good support system,

South Sudan was among the seven countries — alongside East Africa’s athletics powerhouse Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as Zanzibar, Zambia, Tanzania, and Eretria, that took part in the EAAR Under 18/20 Athletics Championship in Dar es Salaam.

But the journey to Tanzania’s port city of Tanzania, according to Riiny was punitively winding and treacherous. 

“We went there (Tanzania) by bus. I was picked up in Kampala. One of us came from Aweil,” Riiny told City Review.

That someone was Cecilia Ajieth Thalang. She was selected to the team, by the South Sudan Athletics Federation and was handed the ticket to participate in a regional championship for the first time.

While to most athletics officials, Cecilia had shown a great potential to become a household name in a sport so underfunded in the country, even bigger than her petite frame, only those close to her understood the struggles she was going through.

“This lady is a great athlete,” Riiny said of Cecilia.

“The only thing that she lacks is endurance because she doesn’t train. She never had any proper preparations in the build-up to the event but still managed a fourth place.

 Untapped potential

She doesn’t train because she has people who depend on her back at home. They can starve to death if she’s not around, “Riiny narrated to City Review in the presence of Cecilia, who nodded in affirmative.  

While all these were unfolding for the duo, another member of the South Sudan team, Semi Thiel Deng, was battling his own share of challenges – in silence.

A 100m and 200m specialist who was forced to step up the distance – to 400m after missing a slot in the men’s 200m, Deng, didn’t have the right gears.

“I ran on borrowed spikes (running shoes). I didn’t have the spikes until a few minutes before the race. I don’t know what could have happened if a good Samaritan didn’t show up,” he narrated to City Review at the Athletics secretariats in Juba. 

Running on borrowed shoes, Deng still managed to clock 47.78 (in 400m) and 10:63 (in 100m) a – double Silver in both events. 

Cecilia took fourth place in women’s 1500 and 500m.

Despite the myriads of challenges in a foreign land, the athletes still managed to fly the country’s flag even higher. In unison, they vowed to pursue their interests – athletics against all odds. 

Riiny, has already set his eyes on Cali, Columba, the host of the World U-20 Athletics Championship later in August.

“I missed the qualifying time but I will chase it elsewhere. I want to represent my country in Colombia,” Riiny, 18 added.

Riiny’s athleticism was spotted after he posted impressive times at the Uganda Trails, first on May 16 then later that month.

“I like my progress so far, I posted 22.83 in the first trials then 21:19 in the second. Last time (in Tanzania) I had 21.90. I know that I can still lower that time and possibly break the national record,” vowed Riiny who just need to chop off 50 microseconds, his current time, to set a new NR. 

Riiny believes that if he had used proper means of transport and maybe had he enjoyed professional service like having a personal physiotherapist, like most of his competitors, he would have avoided the stress of battling muscle contracting.

Deng said that they were spared more embarrassment when a local company donated t-shirts to athletes for a pass-out parade. 

“We didn’t have tracksuits for the parade. Luckily, we got these t-shirts) just a few minutes before we were called,” he added as he points at RAK Media branded t-shirts.

Marco Akol Deng, the federation’s Secretary-General is now calling on the government to provide more incentives for local companies to invest more in sports.

“The biggest challenge that we’ve been facing as a federation is lack of funds. So we must come up with ingenious ways to raise funds. To avoid over-dependence on the government, maybe they can be giving out tax exemptions or at least some percentage, to companies that are supporting sports so they pay less taxes on sports-related equipment,” advised the SG.