Uganda: Leni Will ‘Fight for Something’ From Olympics

The last time Uganda presented a sprinter at the Olympic Games, Shida Leni was just a 15-year-old girl in Ombachi juggling running, high jump and netball. When the 2016 Rio Games arrived, the quarter-miler missed narrowly blowing her Olympic dream away. She was sad!

In the years that followed, Leni, considered the fastest woman in Uganda, found herself trapped in a cycle of injury, rehab and studies.

In the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Games, Covid-19 struck, leaving her to doubt whether she would ever get a chance to become an Olympian.

“Before I went to Europe, I wasn’t running fast. I was under pressure. Anxiety came in. I was so really depressed. The fitness levels were low,” Leni told SCORE.

“And when they talked about ranking was going and yet I was not running the time. It was so worrying until when my manager got races and had to push me to Europe. My first European circuit was a tough one because it was my first time. But towards the end, the body started relaxing and with faster times the hope started coming in.”

Even now, the 28-year-old still does not consider herself to be 100 percent fit, though you wouldn’t know it by her recent achievement of qualifying for the Olympics as the first sprinter, since Justine Bayigga in 2008 in Beijing, China.

In 2018, Leni ran the fastest in the 400m four times, including setting the national record to 52.00 on April 13, 2019.

She is one of the eight in the exclusive class to compete in the sprints for Uganda at the Olympics. The other are Farida Kyakutewa, Ruth Kyalisiima, Oliver Acii, Judith Ayaa, Rose Musani, Irene Muyanga and Mary Musani.

None has ever progressed from the heats.

And going to the Olympics where she will be in action on August 4 during the heats, Leni eyes a place in the semi-finals against all odds.

“To be honest, my first target is to advance to the semi-finals and secondly, I have to run a PB (personal best). That means breaking the national record,” she said.

“I need to work hard to achieve it. Once I achieve those two objectives, I will regard it a success. For the rest, I leave it in the hands of God. I am surely going to give it my best,” Leni added.

There are three qualifying routes to Tokyo 2020. One was by hitting the standard, then by universality and through world rankings. Her qualification was considerably assisted by a five-week European Tour in which she competed in seven 400-metre races and a week’s training in Portugal through her UK-based manager Jeff Freeman.

After the tour, she was ranked 41st enough to earn her a place in the Olympics.

“I didn’t have a coach in Europe. The reason was to go and compete. I have been in touch with the coaches and they I followed their training programme. I only used other people’s coaches to time me,” she says.

Leni says she is one of the athletes who have benefitted from the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics caused by the raging coronavirus pandemic. She believes the extra year gave her more time to make her dream come true.

“It gave me enough time to work on a few things. For most of 2019, I never trained and the postponement gave me time to work on the dream,” she says.

Mildred Gamba, who occasionally gives Leni paces, said she was happy with Leni.

“Shida has gone through many hardships in her career. But again, she has competed at that stage before. She is a silver medallist from the World University Games, she has been a semi-finalist twice at the Commonwealth Games and Africa Games,” Gamba, says.

“She knows what to do at that level. It’s about what the body gives her on that day. If her body responds, you will see a miracle. In terms of confidence, she is up there. Many people have been putting her down but she has proved that when you believe in yourself, you can excel.”

Leni’s bumpy road began when she grew up with her mother Amina Tiko selling food in an evening market in Arua way back before she was offered a scholarship at Ndejje University in 2011.

When the culture shock of arriving in Kampala, she quickly emerged as a rising star. She won the University Games in 2012 before becoming the fastest woman in Uganda.

When Kevin and Sue O’Connor first started working with Leni in in 2013, he knew he had to build the sprinter from his feet up in what has become “the Leni Project.”

Kevin says they took her to the basics, including stopping her from jumping and netball. The project has been monotonous and non-stop. They enrolled her to Espace Gym at Silver Springs Hotel Bugoloobi, one of the few with equipment that can help sprinters to train.

The coaches have been impressed by Leni’s work ethic as she weathered the ups and downs of career, from lack of considerable support from the federation to where she is now as a pro.

At her training base in Kyambogo, obviously not the best choice, she is working on fitness levels.

“Health-wise, I am okay. Previously, I had problems with injuries. In Europe I have not been training. I have been running. When I came back, we started training and fitness is important,” she says.

Leni at championships

2019 World Champs: 6th, Heats (52.22)

2019 African Games: 6th (52.47)

2019 Universaide: 2nd (51.64)

2018 Africa Seniors: 6th (52.78)

2018 C’wealth Games: 22nd, sf (54.50)

2017 Universaide: 11th, sf Heats (53.44)

2016 Islamic Games: 5th (54.57)

2016 Africa Seniors: 8th (53.91)

2015 African Games: 6th (52.86)

2014 C’wealth Games: 21st, sf (54.30)


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Author : Monitor

Publish date : 2021-07-10 09:13:00

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