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Abraham Kwadu Munabi: Uganda’s Greatest Triple Jumper
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, an outstanding student at the prestigious and rigorous Medical School at the renowned Makerere University in Kampala established himself as one of the best triple jumpers in Africa and the Commonwealth of Nations. Abraham Kwadu Munabi, born on 19 December 1940, resembled Uganda’s 1960 champion sprinter Amos Omolo apparently late in life competing in a significant sporting competition. Munabi was the biggest name and hope for medals in Ugandan field athletics during the period. The national record Munabi set in the triple jump still stands four decades later.
But no, it is not for his athletic achievements that the world has come to recognize Munabi. Dr. moved. Munabi to the USA in the late 1970s for higher studies, where he was involved in specialist experiments and research in the field of reproduction. In more than thirty years, Munabi’s name has appeared on a stream of research papers. Munabi is famous as a fertility specialist, reproductive endocrinologist. A board-certified gynecologist, Munabi founded and is the director of the Suburban Philadelphia Institute for Reproductive Science in Pennsylvania.
Munabi jumped to a personal best of 16.11m in the national triple jump record in September 1969. Here Munabi won gold in the triple jump at the East and Central African regional Games. The annual Games were held in the capital Kampala in Munabi’s native Uganda. Munabi’s winning jump of 16.11m far exceeded the competition. In the same tournament, Munabi won gold in the long jump with 7.24m. Munabi would again bag gold in the triple jump at these regional Games in 1972, held in the Tanzanian capital, Dar-es-Salaam. The winning length was 15.40m.
The next most significant international sporting gathering for Munabi would be the 1970 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in Scotland. On July 24th, twenty eight international competitors would hop, skip and jump alternately in the qualifying round for the finals which would take place the next day. Munabi, with a jump of 15.51 metres, was placed ninth out of the thirteen in the final. The top five in the final were Australia’s Mile McGrath (16.09m), Nigeria’s Samuel Igun (16.08m), India’s Mohinder Singh Gill (15.90m), Australia’s Phil May (15.87m), and England’s Tony Wadhams (15.80m). Despite his ninth place, Abe felt he would be able to win a medal for Uganda. In the final rounds, Phil Gray (Australia), with a length of 16.72m, took the gold; Mike McGrath (16.41m) also from Australia, who bagged the money; and Mohinder Singh (India) third after a jump of 15.90m. Abraham Munabi from Uganda, who was not too disappointed, was placed fourth (15.73m).
The 1970 Commonwealth Games saw Uganda emerge, with an impressive medal haul, becoming Commonwealth boxing champions. Boxing gold medals were won by Mohamed Muruli (light welterweight), James Odwori (light flyweight) and Benson Masanda (heavyweight); and the silver medals were won by featherweight Leo Rwabwogo and lightweight Deogratias Musoke. In the world of athletics, William Koskei from Uganda (silver medal in the 400m hurdles) and Judith Ayaa (bronze medal in the 400m) were the prize winners. John Akii-Bua (400m-hurdles), aged 20, like Munabi, was beaten to fourth place.
In the 1972 Olympics held in Munich, 31 year old Munabi (out of the 6 male and 2 female athletes competing) was Uganda’s oldest participant. At 5’11 (180 cm), Munabi was a relatively light 154 pounds (70 kg). There were 36 internationals for the triple jump competition which took place between September 3 and 4. In the end Munabi had a modest best of 15.82m, and was placed 22nd overall. Munabi’s foul in the Third Round halted his progress. For consolation, Munabi had beaten a third of the field. The winners of the Olympic medals were, respectively, Viktor Saneyev from the Soviet Union, Jorg Drehmel from East Germany, and Nelson Prudencio from Brazil.
Munabi was determined to win gold at the next African Games to be held in August 1973. Munabi was beaten into second place by Mansour Mamadou Dia of Senegal. But of importance Munabi had triple jumped to 16.26 metres, a national record that still stands today. Mansour Dia, the winner of the gold medal, had jumped to 16.53 meters, while Moise Pomaney, the winner of the bronze medal from Ghana reached 16.09 meters. Dia also won a bronze medal in the long jump at this All Africa Games. Also, Mansour Dia had not only represented Senegal at the previous three Olympic Games, he had also achieved the best and national best record at the previous Olympic Games in 1972 (16.77m), a national record that would stand for more than 3.5 decades. In the Olympic Games, Dia who is only a week younger than Munabi was 13th in 1964, 8th in 1968, and 6th in 1972.
Uganda’s overall performance at the All-Africa Games was excellent, with boxers and athletes winning an impressive number of medals that Uganda has never come close to winning at the African Games since the 1973 performance (8 gold, 6 silver, 6 bronze). Uganda was sixth overall. In the next year, Munabi would have competed for Uganda in the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch in New Zealand. One of his obstacles was the tough finals he had to go through in his Medicine program at Makerere University.
Munabi finished 6th in the triple jump at the pre-Olympic meeting in Montreal in 1976. Joshua Owusu (also Commonwealth Games champion) from Ghana here won the gold. In the journal “Africa” (1976: 142) Munabi, now 34 years old, is described as having slim hopes of winning an Olympic medal for Africa, but as a great inspiration for the future of field athletics in Uganda. In fact, at that time, Munabi was the leading shot of Ugandan field athletics. In the same meeting before the Olympic Games, the Ugandan boxer, Mustapha Wasajja, later to turn professional and become a world class fighter, won Uganda’s lone gold medal. Unfortunately, Uganda, like many other countries, boycotted and withdrew from the Olympic Games which would soon be held in Montreal.
A tradition of sports and academic excellence runs in the Munabi family. Tunji’s Son Adrian Munabi was a student and general athlete at the prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto in California. Tunji was a leading goal scorer for the Stanford Cardinals, also a triple jump and long jump champion. But the son has not broken the triple jump and the family long jump that the father established. Naikhoba, another outstanding student and athlete, Tunji’s sister, recently joined Stanford and is competing in the triple jump.
As for Uganda, recent acclaim and hope in the triple jump competition comes through Sarah Nambawa (a track and field athlete) who has become the triple jump African champion in the last few years (Nairobi, August 2010), and established the Ugandan record ( 13.95m), and came fifth at the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. Earlier at the 2010 IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup held in Hollti in Croatia in early September 2010, against prestigious international competition Nambawa Uganda finished 6th with his jump of 13.78m. Also, earlier, while competing for Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, in June 2010, Nambawa’s jump of 13.66m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships held in Eugene in Oregon placed her 2nd overall.
There is plenty of room for Nambawa to ably replace “Abe” as Uganda’s greatest triple jumper. Nambawa is certainly the most appropriate athlete to rekindle our memories of Abraham Munabi’s sporting achievements.
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