During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s an excellent student at the prestigious rigorous Medical School at renowned Makerere University in Kampala established himself as one of the top African and Commonwealth of Nations’ triple jumpers. Abraham Kwadu Munabi, born on 19th December 1940, was like Uganda 1960’s champion sprinter Amos Omolo apparently a late-age entrant to significant sports competition. Munabi was the biggest name and medal hope in Uganda field athletics during the time. The national record that Munabi established in the triple jump, still stands four decades later.
But no, it is not for his athletic achievements that the world has mostly come to recognize Munabi. Dr. Munabi moved to the USA in the late-1970’s for advanced studies, where he was involved in specialized experimentation and research in reproduction. In the space of more than thirty years, Munabi’s name has appeared on a stream of research papers. Munabi is renowned as a fertility expert, a reproductive endocrinologist. A board certified gynecologist, Munabi founded and is director the Reproductive Science Institute of Suburban Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
Munabi jumped to a personal best of 16.11m and 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 the capital city Kampala in Munabi’s native Uganda. Munabi’s jump-length win of 16.11m far surpassed the competition. At 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 Tanzania capital Dar-es-Salaam. The winning length was 15.40m.
The next most significant international sports gathering for Munabi would be the Commonwealth of Nation’s Games of 1970 that were held in Edinburgh in Scotland. On July 24th, twenty-eight international competitors would interchangeably hop, skip, and jump in the qualifying round for the finals that would happen the next day. Munabi, with a jump of 15.51 meters, was placed ninth out of the thirteen finalists. The top five finalists were Australian Mile McGrath (16.09m), Samuel Igun of Nigeria (16.08m), Mohinder Singh Gill of India (15.90m), Australian Phil May (15.87m), and Tony Wadhams of England (15.80m). Despite his ninth place ranking, Abe felt he would ably grab a medal for Uganda. The finals witnessed Phil Gray (Australia), with a length of 16.72m, take the gold; Mike McGrath (16.41m) also of Australia, bagged the silver; and Mohinder Singh (India) was third after a jump of 15.90m. Abraham Munabi of Uganda was placed, a not too disappointing, fourth (15.73m).
These Commonwealth of Nations Games of 1970 witnessed Uganda emerge, with an impressive collection of medals, becoming the 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 flyweight Leo Rwabwogo and lightweight Deogratias Musoke. In athletics, Uganda’s William Koskei (silver medal in 400m-hurdles) and Judith Ayaa (bronze medal in the 400m) were the prize winners. John Akii-Bua (400m-hurdles), aged 20, was like Munabi, beaten into fourth place.
At the Olympics of 1972 that were held in Munich, 31 year-old Munabi (out of the competing 6 male and 2 female athletes) 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 that took place from September 3rd to 4th. Munabi ended up with a rather mediocre best length of 15.82m, and was placed 22nd ranked overall. Munabi’s foul in the Third Round halted his progress. For comfort, Munabi had beaten a third of the field. The Olympic medal winners were, respectively Viktor Saneyev of the Soviet Union, Jorg Drehmel of East Germany, and Nelson Prudencio of Brazil.
Munabi was determined to win gold at the next All-Africa Games that would be held in August of 1973. Munabi was beaten to second place by Mansour Mamadou Dia of Senegal. But of significance Munabi had triple jumped to 16.26 meters, a national record that stands to this day. Gold medallist Mansour Dia had jumped to 16.53 meters, while bronze medallist Moise Pomaney of Ghana had achieved 16.09 meters. Dia also won a bronze medal in the long jump at these All-Africa Games. Also, Mansour Dia had not only represented Senegal at the previous three Olympics, he had also achieved the personal best and national record at the previous 1972 Olympics (16.77m), a national record that would stand for more than 3.5 decades. At the Olympics, Dia who is only a week younger than Munabi was overall 13th in 1964, 8th in 1968, and 6th in 1972.
The overall Uganda 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 in the Africa 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 at the Commonwealth Games that were held in Christchurch in New Zealand. One of his impediments were the trying finals he had to attend to in his Medicine program at Makerere University.
Munabi finished 6th in the triple jump at the 1976 Montreal pre-Olympic meet. Joshua Owusu (also Commonwealth of Nations Games’ champion) of Ghana here won the gold. In the journal “Africa” (1976: 142) Munabi, now aged 34, is described as having slim hopes of winning an Olympic medal for Africa, but as being a major inspiration for the future of field athletics in Uganda. Indeed, at that time, it was Munabi who was Uganda’s field athletics’ top hit. At the same pre-Olympic meet, Ugandan boxer, Mustapha Wasajja, later to turn professional and become a top-ranked world fighter, won Uganda’s lone gold. Unfortunately, Uganda, as did many other countries, boycotted and withdrew from the Olympic Games that would soon take place in Montreal.
The tradition of sports and academic excellence prevails in the Munabi family. Son Tunji Adrian Munabi was a student and all round-athlete at prestigious Stanford University in Palo Alto in California. Tunji was a top goal-scorer for the Stanford Cardinals, also a triple jump and long jump champion. But the son has not smashed the family triple-jump and long-jump records that the father established. Naikhoba another excellent student and athlete, the sister of Tunji, recently joined Stanford and competes in the triple jump.
As for Uganda, recent accolades and hope in the triple jump competition come by way of Sarah Nambawa (a track and field athlete) who in the last couple of years has become triple jump Africa champion (Nairobi, August 2010), established a Uganda record (13.95m), and was placed fifth at the Commonwealth Games of 2010 that were held in New Delhi. Earlier the 2010 IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup held in Split in Croatia in early September 2010, against imposing international competition Uganda’s Nambawa finished 6th with her 13.78m jump. Also, earlier, competing for Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, in June 2010, Nambawa’s leap of 13.66m at the NCAA Outdoor Championships that were held in Eugene in Oregon placed her as 2nd overall.
There is ample room for Nambawa to ably displace “Abe” as Uganda’s greatest triple jumper. Nambawa is certainly the most appropriate athlete to rekindle our memories of the sports achievements of Abraham Munabi.