Throwback Thursday: Uganda’s Tofiri Kibuuka

It has been 40 years since Kibuuka became Africa’s first winter Para athlete and 20 since he was named Norway’s Paralympic flag bearer. 09 Jun 2016
Athlete holding the Norwegian flag.

Uganda's Tofiri Kibuuka was flagbearer for Norway as the first African winter Paralympian.

ⒸTofiri Kibuuka

“I wanted to become the first African winter Para athlete.”

After becoming the first African winter Para athlete at Ornskoldsvik 1976, Uganda’s Tofiri Kibuuka switched to summer sports, acquired Norwegian citizenship and went on to be named the Nordic country’s Paralympic flag bearer, at Atlanta 1996.

The former cross-country skier was already living in Norway when he competed at the first Paralympic Winter Games, but still chose to represent Uganda because he wanted to make history.

“I wanted to become the first African winter Para athlete,” said Kibuuka, who finished 10th in the 15 km A and 16th in the 10km A events, in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.

“What I remember the most about my first Paralympic winter experience is that the weather was so cold.

“I was very nervous because I wanted to do my best. The Swedish Prince came to me and the other competitors before the race and wished us luck.

“It was exciting and as soon as I stood on the starting point, my fear was gone and I could enjoy.”

Kibuuka also competed for Uganda in cross-country skiing at Geilo 1980, before switching to athletics and representing Norway over five Paralympic Games between 1984 and 2000.

“I am really proud to have become the first African winter Para athlete. I was not a good skier, but I was brave.”

Kibuuka lost his sight at 13 due to a degenerative sight disease but 12 years later still decided to take part in an Outward Bound course, where participants experience wilderness expeditions, in Kenya.

“That is how I became one of the first blind people to have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and was invited to attend a sport international youth camp in Norway,” he said.

“During that camp, I tried canoeing, kayaking and horse riding in the summer. And when the winter came, I had my first skiing experience.

“At first, I was trying not to fall. Norwegians are born with skis on their legs, but it was tough for me. I had no technique.”

Kibuuka decided at that time not to return to Uganda but to stay in Norway.

“There were many more possibilities for the blind to achieve education in Norway than in Uganda, where the political situation was too unstable,” he explained.

“The social service helped me until I graduated as a physiotherapist and started working.”

In 1981, Kibuuka decided to put an end to his short skiing career and started competing in athletics for Norway.

“Running feels good, relaxing. I like it, whilst skiing is a challenge,” he said.

As an athlete, Kibuuka won five silvers and one bronze Paralympic medals between 1984 and 1992, and was named Norway’s flagbearer at Atlanta 1996.

“It was such an honour to carry the Norwegian flag and become the first black man to do so,” he said.

Since then, Kibuuka has several times visited his family in Uganda, but feels “very much as a Norwegian.”

“I am married to a Norwegian woman, have two wonderful children and get recognition in Norway. Of course, my roots are in Uganda and will always be there.”

Editor’s note: “Throwback Thursday” is a feature series published on twice a month, bringing you the stories of some of the top Paralympic athletes of the past.