Leo Rwabwogo: Uganda's Top Olympic Boxer and Double Medallist

Leo Rwabwogo is officially recorded as having been born on June 3 1949, but some of his family members place his date of birth as being as far back as 1942. Rwabwogo died on January 14, 2009 (some sources state, January 15, 2009), when he collapsed while tending to his crop plantation that included bananas, in western Uganda. He likely died from heart failure.

Leo Rwabwogo was one of the most prominent of Uganda's amateur boxing fighters during the 1960's. Rwabwogo's international prominence came with the African Boxing Championships that were held in Zambia's capital Lusaka in June 1968. Rwabwogo, as a flyweight, emerged as gold-medalist with a win over Mohamed Selim of Egypt.

The memorable Olympic Games of 1968 (October 12 to October 27), were held in the populous Mexico capital of Mexico City. Rwabwogo started in the preliminaries by defeating Sang Byung-Soo of South Korea by 5-0. Next came the quarter-finals, and Rwabwogo managed to beat Tibor Badari of Hungary, by 3-2. Because of his incredible speed and efficiency, muscular and well-conditioned Rwabwogo was suspected of having inhaled marijuana. There was no proof that Rwabwogo had broken any rules! Next came the semi-finals in which Rwabwogo was pitted against Artur Olec of Poland. Unfortunately, Rwabwogo was judged as having lost the bout by 2-3. Nevertheless, Leo Rwabwogo, by winning the bronze medal, became Uganda's first Olympic medalist. His name would become cemented into Uganda's sports history, forever!

Subsequently, Artur Olec was defeated by Ricardo Delgado (Ricardo Delgado Nogales) of Mexico, in the finals. Delgado turned professional in 1969, but his professional record is mediocre with about half as wins and half as defeats by points. Delgado retired from professional boxing in 1975.

In 1970, Leo Rwabwogo would shine as a contributor to Uganda's emergence as top Commonwealth boxing nation. The 1970 Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh in Scotland during July 17-24. In the quarterfinals, flyweight Leo Rwabwogo shone by defeating Leon Nissen of Australia with the referee stopping the bout in the second round. In the semi-finals, Rwabwogo was pitted against David Larmour of Ireland. Rwabwogo won by a majority points decision. However, in the finals, Rwabwogo was defeated 4-1 by Dave Needham of England. Rwabwogo became honored with a silver medal. Dave "the Artful Dodger" Needham is legendary in the British Empire, and won several British professional titles.

Rwabwogo next mainly shone in the next Olympics. Rwabwogo notably maintained his weight and represented Uganda, again as a flyweight at the 1972 Olympics that were held from August 28 to September 10. In the preliminaries, Rwabwogo would overwhelmingly defeat Jorge Acuna of Uruguay by 5-0. Next, muscular Rwabwogo technically knocked out Maurice O’Sullivan of Great Britain in the first round. The next preliminary bout would again favor Rwabwogo with a 4-1 win over Orn-Chim Chawalit of Thailand. Rwabwogo then moved on to the quarter-finals and delivered with a third-round technical knockout of Neil McLaughlin of Ireland. And in the semi-finals, notwithstanding the outstanding dominance of Cubans at the 1972 Games and in world amateur boxing as a whole, Leo Rwabwogo was able to convincingly defeat Douglas Rodriguez of Cuba by 3-2. The Cubans dominated boxing at these Olympic Games, and though Rodriguez was defeated by Rwabwogo and settled for bronze, later at the World Amateur boxing Championships held in Havana, Rodriguez would capture gold.

Unfortunately, in the final of the 1972 Olympics, Rwabwogo lost to Georgi Kostadinov of Bulgaria by 5-0. Rwabwogo had allegedly accumulated a thumb injury that may well have been a major factor in the loss. Nevertheless, Leo Rwabwogo had further cemented himself in Uganda history as the only Ugandan to have won two Olympic medals. No Ugandan has ever re-enacted Rwabwogo's feat. Furthermore, because Rwabwogo won more Olympic boxing medals than any other Ugandan boxer, Rwabwogo is regarded by many as Uganda's top amateur boxer. this is a moot issue, given that several other Ugandans, such as James Odwori, Mohamed Muruli, and Ayub Kalule won more gold medals in their international competitions. But again, many regard the Olympics as the traditional hallmark of international competition!

Let it also be considered that in Rwabwogo's next major international outing, that is the All-Africa Games (held in Nigerian capital Lagos from January 7-18 1973) Leo Rwabwogo (only 3 months after his silver medal win at the Olympics) was in his very first preliminary eliminated (3-2) by Laha Ratavi of Madagascar! Ratavi was virtually unknown in the boxing world just as Madagascar's stance in the boxing world was abysmally low. Next, Laha Ratavi was defeated in the quarter-finals by Isaac Maiawa of Kenya. Maiawa eventually became the silver-medalist. Ratavi was never heard of, again, as regards international boxing! Furthermore, Leo Rwabwogo would little be heard of again as regards fighting for his native Uganda nation. Rwabwogo is not even listed amongst Uganda's team of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, that eventually boycotted the Games'. Even in retrospect, Rwabwogo was not included in the 1974 Uganda teams of the African Boxing Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and the World Amateur Boxing Championships.

Maybe age and injuries had caught up with famed Uganda amateur boxer, Leo Rwabwogo; maybe the national coaches considered upcoming younger boxers as more competent than Leo Rwabwogo. Rwabwogo never moved into the professional ranks, but he sometimes lamented that he was denied the opportunity when Uganda boxing officials either blocked his chances or were discouraging! Rwabwogo still persists as one of the most skillful, strong, agile and well-conditioned of Uganda's boxers.

Jonathan Musere

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