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Judith Ayaa: Progressive Breaking of the 400-Meters Africa Record
Judith Ayaa was the dominant female sprinter at the East and Central African Athletics Championships from 1968 to 1972. During the same period, she was not only the 4-time 400m champion, but also often competed and won in the 100m and 200m, as well as when she was part of the Ugandan relay teams. Ayaa’s victory in the 400m at the ECA championships in Dar-es-Salaam was a new record in Africa – 53.6. By virtue of this personal best time in 1969, Ayaa in 1969 was among the top 10 female 400 meter sprinters in the world.
Due to a relatively low number of women competing in the 400m at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, only semi-finals and finals would be held this way. On 22 July 1970 in the second of the two semi-finals. He won in a quite remarkable time –52.86– a new African record. The time placed her eleventh best in the world in 1970.
The final was held on the 23rd. But after being the fastest among the semi-finalists, Ayaa may have run too fast. Perhaps she should have run at a relaxed pace, fast enough to be in the top four of the semi-final heats which would ensure they qualified for the finals. In this second semi-final heat, Australia’s Sandra Brown finished second by a full second behind Ayaa. The first pre-final heat when Marilyn Fay Neufville of Jamaica won in 53.05, was probably one of more calmness and relaxation.
In the final, Neufville, a slender and relatively short 17-year-old, won in 51.02 – a new world record. She won stunningly by more than two seconds ahead of silver medalist Sandra Brown of Australia (53.66). So Neufville shaved almost a second off the world record of 51.7 set in 1969 by Frenchmen Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos. Judith Ayaa, who was overtaken after slowing down near the end of the race, likely due to fatigue after her unnecessary effort in the semi-final, was third (53.77) close behind Sandra Brown and won the bronze. The fatigue had probably cost her at least the silver medal; but the Commonwealth bronze would be one of Ayaa’s most cherished international possessions! This was Uganda’s first medal at the Commonwealth Games for a woman to win!
In 1970 at the East-Central African Championships held in Nairobi, Ayaa won the 400-meter in 54.0. That was on top of her 100m win.
Ayaa competed in the USA-Pan African Track-and-Field Meet held in mid-July 1971 at Duke University in Durham, NC. Her gold medal winning time was 54.69.
Still in 1971, at the ECA Championships in Lusaka, Ayaa won in the 400-meter (54.7); and she was part of Uganda’s gold medal winning teams in both sprint relays.
Ayaa competed in a two-day Pre-Olympic Meet (“Hanns-Braun Memorial International Pre-Olympic Invitational”) in mid-August 1972 in Munich, a preparation period for the upcoming Olympic Games in the same city in West Germany.
Ayaa, aged 20, took part in the 3 heats in the women’s 400 metres. The top overall finishers would be designated. Overall Ayaa’s time was the second best – 52.68 – a new African record. Later, in early September 1972, in Munich at the Olympics, Ayaa was timed again in 52.68 seconds when she finished third in the quarter-finals and advanced to the semi-finals. So she equaled her personal best and the African record. Ayaa would be eliminated from advancing to the Olympic finals when she finished 7th (52.91) in a pre-final heat.
At the pre-Olympic meeting in Munich, on the second day of the meeting, Ayaa also competed in the 200 meters and finished fifth. The results were (AP 1972: 66):
1. Marina Sidorova (Soviet Union), 23.78; 2. Karollne Kaefer (Austria), 23.99; 3. Vilma Charlton (Jamaica), 24.04; 4. Una Morris (Jamaica), 24.11; 5. Judith Ayaa (Uganda), 24.12.
Judith Ayaa would fade from the limelight of international competition after 1973. President Idi Amin Dada presented her with the Ugandan flag in her capacity as captain of the Lagos-bound national team for the All Africa Games in January 1973. expected to win in the 400m. But possibly due to injuries, illness, or insufficient training, he did not compete in any of the individual sprints in Lagos. But it is possible that she competed in the women’s 4x400m relay where Uganda won gold.
Much more was expected of this young elite African athlete, one of the few African women to reach such a peak during the dawn of female power athletes. It would take three decades for Ayaa’s Ugandan national record in the 400m to be broken. After more than four decades, the current Ugandan record (52.48; although it was 52.2 in 1996 by Grace Birungi, according to some accounts) by Justine Bayigga, set in 2008, is only 0.2 seconds below the national record and African which Judith Ayaa set in 1972.
AP (August 17, 1972). “Second Day of Sports Festival,” in “San Bernardino County Sun,” page 66.
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