Jamila Lunkuse returns to the Olympics with lots of experience and exposure but not without mixed feelings. She was arguably Uganda's best female swimmer after a stellar performance at the Africa Championship in 2011.
Her scholarship at Plymouth College, a school where talented swimmers have an opportunity to enhance their careers at Plymouth Leander, strengthened this notion further as she prepared for London 2012.
"It was a harder and more technical programme than what I was used to in Uganda (before she left Dolphins Swim Club aged 12 years), but when I got used to it, it made me a lot faster," Lunkuse says of her scholarship at Plymouth (England)after one of her training sessions at Hotel Africana. She earned herself a wildcard to London where she clocked 28.44 seconds to finish 52nd in the heats on her first time out.
As a 15-year-old then, she was full of confidence and even talked of winning medals at future international meets. Even her 2012 teammate Ganzi Mugula thought as much. Four years later and her new Olympic teammate Joshua Ekirikubinza wishes he could be in her place.
"When we were kids, Jamila faced lots of competition, many kids were swimming. Now she is out there on her own," Ekirikubinza says.
Lunkuse, however, goes to Rio de Janeiro without much of the promise that was anticipated.
School commitments and change of environment made sure she could not beat times she set at the World Championships in Kazan - Russia last year to qualify on her own. So she returns to the Olympics on a wild card. "I was one second short of the B time for the freestyle and two seconds off for 100m breaststroke," she shares. "Everyone has their peak time when things are fun, you race and enjoy it. But when the pressure gets on and you have to beat time, you lose excitement. Maybe I am better when am not under pressure," she admits.
The story of an average Ugandan swimmer is that the older they get, the more their careers tend to take a hit. Lunkuse has found out as much after joining Brighton University to study business and marketing, an institution that has no swimming programme. "It's hard to move on from a program after six years because everything at Plymouth was about swimming, even the friends I had. Now it's a new environment but that's life I guess," she says as though she is resigned to fate.
Except that that is only in her tone. She badly yearns to get back to her best and her decision to return home to work with her very first coaches Muzafaru Muwanguzi and Tonnie Kasujja has boosted her confidence.
"I needed a change of scenery and these coaches know me well. My program at university wasn't working so I decided to come home. I have nothing to lose, so why stick to something not working and go for a swim meet when not confident enough," she explains. But is time on her side, after working with Germany-trained coaches for two weeks thus far and the Olympics already knocking?
"Jamila has a heavily supportive family behind her. she has to push really hard because of the time she has lost. But these kids (Lunkuse and Ekirikubinza) are hard workers in everything they do and we hope she can get back to her best," Kasujja says.
Lunkuse and her colleague Ekirikubinza left for Rio yesterday.
Source: The Monitor.