Judith Ayaa was the dominant sprinter at the Central and East African Athletics Championships from 1968 to 1972. During the same time span, she was not only a four-time 400m champion, but also often competed and won in the 100m. meters and 200 m, as well as when he was part of the Ugandan relay teams. Ayaa’s victory in the 400 meters at the ECA championships in Dar-es-Salaam was a new African record: 53.6. By virtue of this personal best time in 1969, Ayaa was ranked in 1969 among the top 10 female 400 meter sprinters in the world.

Because there was a relatively low number of women competing in the 400m at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, only one semi-final and one final were hereby held. On July 22, 1970, they lined up for the second of two semifinal ties. She won in quite an amazing time, 52.86, a new African record. Time ranked her 11th best in the world in 1970.

The final took place on the 23rd. But having been the fastest among the semi-finalists, Ayaa had perhaps run too fast. She perhaps should have run at a leisurely pace, fast enough to be in the top four of any of the semi-final heats that would secure her qualification for the final. In this second semi-final heat, Australia’s Sandra Brown finished second by a full second behind Ayaa. The first semi-final series, which Jamaica’s Marilyn Fay Neufville won at 53.05, was apparently one of more tact and relaxation.

In the final, 17-year-old Neufville, slim and relatively short, won in 51.02, a new world record. She won by a staggering gap of more than two seconds ahead of silver medalist Sandra Brown of Australia (53.66). Neufville thus cut by almost a second the world record of 51.7 established in 1969 by the French Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos. Judith Ayaa, overtaken after slowing down near the end of the race, likely due to fatigue after her unnecessary exertion in the semis, was third (53.77) close behind Sandra Brown and won bronze. Fatigue had probably cost him at least the silver medal; but Commonwealth bronze would be one of Ayaa’s most prized international possessions! It was Uganda’s first Commonwealth Games medal won by a woman!

In 1970, at the Central and East African Championships held in Nairobi, Ayaa won the 400 meters with 54.0. That was in addition to his victory in the 100 meters.

Ayaa competed in the USA-Africa track meet held in mid-July 1971 at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. His time to win the gold medal was 54.69.

As late as 1971, at the ECA Championships in Lusaka, Ayaa won in the 400 meters (54.7); and he 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 buildup to the upcoming Olympics in the same West German city.

Ayaa, 20 years old, participated in the 3 heats of the women’s 400 meters. The first classified in the general would be indicated. Overall, Ayaa’s time was second best: 52.68, a new African record. Later, in early September 1972, at the Munich Olympics, Ella Ayaa again clocked 52.68 seconds as she finished third in the quarterfinals and advanced to the semifinals. In doing so, she matched her personal best and Africa’s record. Ayaa would be eliminated from advancing to the Olympic final when she finished seventh (52.91) in a series of semifinals.

At the pre-Olympic meet in Munich, on the second day of the meet, Ayaa More 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 spotlight of international competition after 1973. She was presented with the Ugandan flag by President Idi Amin Dada in her capacity as captain of the national team heading to Lagos for the Pan African Games in January 1973. She was hopes to win in the 400m. But possibly due to injury, illness or inadequate training, she did not compete in any of the individual sprints in Lagos. But she possibly did compete in the women’s 4x400m relay in which Uganda won gold.

Much more was expected of this elite young African athlete, one of the few African women to reach such a pinnacle during that era of the dawn of female power athletes. It would take three decades for Ayaa’s Ugandan national record in the 400 meters to be broken. After more than four decades, the current Ugandan record (52.48; although it is 52.2 in 1996 by Grace Birungi, according to some accounts) by Justine Bayigga, set in 2008, is only 0.2 seconds lower than the national and African record set by Judith Ayaa. in 1972.

Works Cited

AP (August 17, 1972). “Second Day of the Sports Festival”, in “San Bernardino County Sun”, page 66.

Judith Ayaa: Progressive breaking of the African record of the 400 meters

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