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Elisha Tibatemwa ’21 breaks Ugandan national record in 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly

Elisha+Tibatemwa+21+traveled+to+Australia+to+compete+internationally+for+Uganda.+He+wound+up+breaking+records.+Photo+by+Mahira+Faran.
Elisha Tibatemwa ’21 traveled to Australia to compete internationally for Uganda. He wound up breaking records. Photo by Mahira Faran.
Elisha Tibatemwa ’21 traveled to Australia to compete internationally for Uganda. He wound up breaking records. Photo by Mahira Faran.

By Lily Böhlke
bohlkeli@grinnell.edu

In the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, Grinnell swimming’s very own Elisha Tibatemwa ’21 broke two Ugandan national records: one for the 50-meter freestyle and one for the 50-meter butterfly. His freestyle time was 24.93, placing 47th overall and breaking the previous record of 25.54. His butterfly time was 27.17, placing 50th overall.

“I think I did pretty well in the freestyle and butterfly — I prefer the freestyle,” Tibatemwa said. “It was kind of exciting because there was a huge crowd and everything; there was a big screen.”

Tibatemwa competed with the Uganda National Team, which had two athletes swimming including Tibatemwa. According to Tibatemwa, the Uganda team found his times from his first college season here at Grinnell.

“Going in, [breaking the records] was kind of my goal, so I was happy I was able to do it,” Tibatemwa said.

He said that while there was more pressure in the Commonwealth Games than on the Grinnell team, things were less extravagant than he had expected in his first big international competition. To keep his nerves at bay, he connected with some friends from different countries who he had met over the years in his swimming career.

“I think everything seemed a bit more normal than I expected it to be,” he said. “I think I expected it to be more extravagant, but I got there and the people you see on TV and everything just seem more normal.”

Seeing celebrity-level athletes didn’t compare to international travel, though. One of the most rewarding aspects of the Commonwealth Games for Tibatemwa was having the chance to go to Australia. Throughout his swimming career as a child, he traveled around Africa to different meets and really enjoyed that aspect of international competition.

Elisha is not the first Tibatemwa to make waves in the international swimming arena. While both of his brothers were involved in swimming growing up, one of them, Grinnellian Joshua Tibatemwa ’19, went to the Olympics in 2016 and ranked 64th in his event with a time of 25.98.

“There’s sometimes competition, but it’s more like fun competition. So usually if we’re doing the same event we’ll try and race each other and see who would win,” Elisha said. “I guess it’s kind of cool to keep it going so that even if he stops, I can keep going.”

Tibatemwa has been swimming since he was 10 years old. He played soccer until his parents suggested he try swimming, and it turned out he had a knack for it.

“Swimming is peaceful,” Tibatemwa. “I find competition kind of fun.”

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