Kathleen Grace Noble — the Uganda-born daughter of Irish missionary parents — finished fifth in Sanita Puspure’s heat of the women single sculls this morning in Tokyo, 35 seconds behind Ireland’s world champion.
But her history-making race — Noble is Uganda’s first Olympic rower — clocked a personal best, good enough for a Uganda record and a place in Saturday’s repechage.
Perhaps more importantly, it sparked a jubilant reaction among the Ugandan rowing community and joy palpable even at a distance of social media.
Noble, 26, previously swam in the world championships for Uganda, and only took up rowing seven years ago when she moved to the USA to study at Princeton University.
A chance visit to the university by a Ugandan rowing coach began another journey, one the Uganda Rowing Community Facebook group has been chronicling all the way to Tokyo this morning.
Recalling Noble's first trip back home to train in Uganda, they posted:
“Kathleen was in the struggle with us the rowers and continues to be in the struggle with us.
"Some of us who had given up on our dreams because we no longer saw any more hope, seeing Kathleen on TV this morning has started to get us excited again but unfortunately it is too late for some us, those dreams were long shattered.
“The country and the whole world is now watching and our voices can hopefully now be heard."
Earlier, they posted: “The excitement and inspiration that Kathleen has imparted on our rowing community is big. For years rowers in Uganda have had to jump one obstacle after another.
"The governance of this sport in Uganda has let many down and many have given up and quit the sport. Kathleen is one of us, we have trained with her, competed with her, camped with her. Her success is our success. Kathleen has given us hope.
"By training hard for #Tokyo2020 Olympic Games to represent Uganda while motivating women and young girls in Uganda to believe in themselves, to believe that their dreams are valid and working hard for their dreams.
"Thank you Kathleen."
Before racing this morning, Noble told the: “I wanted to inspire younger rowers from Uganda and show them it’s possible (to go to the Olympics).”
Noble’s coach Rodrick Muhumuza is optimistic Noble's journey isn't over just yet.
“Kathleen did well to make it to the repechage. She will improve in the next races.”