Saturday, March 7, 2015

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Africa's Olympic Highs and Lows

London 2012 has seen Ugandan elation, Kenyan record-breaking and West African defection.
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The leading pack at London 2012 men's marathon, dominated by East African athletes. Photograph by Peter Mooney.

London, UK:

Stepping onto the podium at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, 23-year-old Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich, winner of the men's marathon, became Uganda’s first gold medallist since 1972. To his left and right on the podium, with silver and bronze respectively, were Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich. This marked a proud, but perhaps unsurprising, finish for East Africa where success in middle and long-distance track races has become part of the region's identity.

For years, Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated in these events, a reflection perhaps of the increasing amount of investment put into the sport. Competition between the two countries saw Kenya push more funds in the direction of women athletes in the hope that this would secure the country more medals.

Despite the investment drive, Ethiopia still ranked above Kenya at 24th in the final medals table with a total of seven medals, two of which were earned by Tirunesh Dibaba, who retained both her gold in the women's 10,000 metres and won bronze in the 5,000 metres. Though Kenya earned four medals more, only two were gold, one of which was awarded to Olympic debutant and new athletic hero David Rudisha, who won the 800 metres final and set a new world record of 1:40.91. In that same race, Botswana gained its first ever medal after nine appearances at the games as Nijel Amos took home silver.

South Africa, the biggest African team with 133 athletes, took home a total of six medals, three of which were gold. With the largest economy on the continent, the country has been able to put more money into training its athletes and was able to send double amputee Oscar Pitsorius to the games, making Olympic history. Pistorius reached the semi-final of the men's 400 metres and the 4x400 metres relay final, finishing eighth in both events.

North African victory came from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, where a total of seven medals were won. Algeria's only medal came from Taoufik Makhloufi who won the 1500 metres for his first Olympic gold.

Get set, Go!

Unfortunately, there was little to celebrate in West Africa as not a single athlete in the region won a medal. The Ivory Coast came close with sprinter Murielle Ahoure who impressed in the heats of the 100 metres and 200 metres, but came in seventh and sixth respectively in the finals. Her relative success was soured by the announcement that two Ivorian swimmers, Brou Kouassi Franck and Touré Assita, and a wrestling coach had gone missing from the Olympic village following their events.

Their disappearance came shortly after seven members of the Cameroonian squad were said to have defected. All five members of Cameroon’s boxing team left the Olympic village following their defeat in the games. Reserve goalkeeper for the country's football team, Drusille Ngako, went missing after a pre-match game in Coventry against New Zealand just a few days before the games began. And swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue took off after he failed to qualify for his heat in the 50 metres freestyle.

The suspected defection is said to be the largest from any one country in the history of the Olympics and is, according to Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, president of Cameroon’s National Olympic Committee, indicative of the difficult living conditions in the country. The running away of Ivorian athletes could be down to the resurgence of violence in the country following disputed elections in 2010.

Rio and beyond

Overall, Africa's performance at the Olympics was neither a spectacular success nor a wholly disappointing failure. The continent's athletes managed to collect 32 medals (including 11 golds), down from the 39 medals (13 golds) gained in Beijing in 2008, but not dramatically so. 

Africa's athletes can now look ahead to 2016 when Brazil, an emerging economy and model for developing countries, will become the first South American nation to host the Olympic Games.

And with the announcement from the Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga that the country will be looking to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, the continent may have much to look forward to. Onward to Nairobi 2024? Perhaps.

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I don't think anyone is taking Raila's bid very seriously. Kenya had high hopes for London 2012, their disappointing performance is part of a bigger problem within Kenya's athletic federation that has made some questionable choices with regard to training and team selection.

You've not mentioned Gabon's success in the men's Taekwando.  After a very close fight, Anthony Obame narrowly missed out on gold against Carlo Molfetta of Italy in the men's +80kg competition.  This is Gabon's first ever Olympic medal.

I watched other African countries grab medals @ the Olympics but Nigeria... HA... very annoying to watch my country and see nothing! The method of preparation in Nigeria is just plain ridiculous!