A Ugandan marathoner who won the nation’s first Olympics gold medal in 40 years returned home to a hero’s welcome and a check for $80,000.
Stephen Kiprotich, 23, was virtually unknown in Uganda before he stunned his Kenyan challengers, who were heavily favored to win the marathon during the London Olympics.
His unexpected win sparked excitement in the East African nation that won its last gold medal in the Munich Games in 1972.
Throngs flooded the airport to honor Kiprotich, whose win sparked fierce pride as the nation celebrates 50 years of independence.
“I need to salute Kiprotich and those people who helped him to train,” said President Yoweri Museveni, who had breakfast with him Wednesday at state house in Entebbe.
“This gives us morale boost to organize ourselves better.”
Museveni also presented Kiprotich with a check of Ugandan shillings 200 million ($80,000), according to a statement from the president’s office.
He ordered the money be deposited on his account before the close of business and pledged to build a three-bedroom house for his parents in eastern Uganda.
“This medal is from God particularly now that Uganda is celebrating 50 years of independence,” the president said.
The president also pledged to provide more support to Ugandan athletes and build a high altitude training facility for future runners. Kiprotich moved to Kenya’s high altitude Eldoret region to train because of lack of training facilities in his nation.
The Ugandan Olympian started off the marathon by trailing behind the Kenyan duo that won silver and bronze, but finished with a big lead.
After he crossed the finish line, he dropped to his knees and bowed, draped in a Ugandan flag.
“I have been dreaming, ‘Can I be like John Akii-Bua?’,” Kiprotich said after winning. ” I think today I joined the champions, so I am happy.”
The late Akii-Bua won Uganda’s first Olympic gold four decades ago in the 400-meter hurdles.