LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: Africa on the path of excellence
Since the victory of Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila in the Rome marathon in 1960, Africa has kept strong ties with the Olympic Games. By the decolonization era and the emancipation of the African people, the high runner from the high plateau had put Italy and the world under his legs. Africa then discovered the positive impact of an Olympic victory on its image. Since then, this victory has transformed the Olympic arena into a seductive platform. Each edition gave room for a stunning and fantastic performance and a new avenue for achievements. Thus, in 1968, it was the fascinating Kipchoge Keino who opened the doors for the mid distance in which generations of millions of Africans notably Philbert Bayi (Tanzania), Morceli (Algeria), Aouita and El Guerroudj (Morocco). Without having the aura and audience of Bikila, Keino proved that Africa’s burst on the athletics scene had come to stay. Twenty years after the Kenyan’s performance, Africa has dominated all the athletics events at the Olympics. The domination has been extended to the 800m as well as the marathon and the steeple chase. In 1984, Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel paved the way for African and Arab ladies by becoming the first female Olympic champion after winning the 400m hurdles ahead of Americans and Europeans. Hassiba Boulmerka (Algeria), Nezha Bidouane (Morocco), Françoise Mbango Etone (Cameroon) and many others followed in her footsteps. Later, at the start of the 1990s, with the return of South Africa on the Olympic scene after a long absence because i twas banned for apartheid, we witnessed the incursions on grounds long described as‘foreign’ to the continent’s athletes. We are talk here of the impressive performances of Okkert Brits in pole vaulting, that of her compatriot Hesthrie-Cloete Storbeck in the high jump and the great performances of Kruger in the hammer throw. In fact, Africa has never stopped to gain grounds and show that it was capable to shine in several sports. We consequently witnessed first important Africa triumphs with the story having a continuation. In Los Angeles in 1984, Egypt’s judo athlete Mohamed Rashwan, made a spectacular, burst in a discipline completely dominated by Japan and some European countries like France and Russia. In the finals, in all categories, the Cairo native fell to Japan’s Yasuhiro Yamashita. The exploit to remain like that. In the same vane, Zimbabwe’s ladies’ handball team won the 1980 hockey Olympic tournament. It is true it was in Moscow where the Anglo Saxon teams who were favourites boycotted the event. By the 90s, we started witnessing stunning performances which had more significance. In 1996 in Atlanta, Algeria enabled the continent to get its first Olympic medalist in boxing. Hocine Soltani was an excellent boxer who dominated the light weight category. The Georgian capital proved to be a blessed land for Africans. This was equally evident with the South African swimming team that won three gold medals due to a double from brass swimmer Pénélope Heyns and to the 4X100 m men’s relay team before Zimbabwe followed in their footsteps in 2004 in Athens through Kirsty Coventry (gold medalist in the 100 and 200m) and in Beijing in 2008 through Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli who won the 1500m. However, what really marked the Olympic world was Nigeria’s sensational triumph against Argentina in 1996 in the football tournament in Atlanta. The image of the young Eagles shone with hope across the planet and filled the supporters across the continent from north to south with joy. It was inevitable. The Olympic football tournament could not go away from Africa for long. That success was confirmed four years later in Sydney. Just as to stay in the same vane, Cameroon taught Brazil a football lesson, another South American. Football, athletics, swimming are the visible and spectacular know how of African athletes. It is true that the continent does not feature or play hard in disciplines described “minor” but they imposed themselves in the others. However, we have witnessed decisive progress in collective sports. This is evident in handball, represented by Tunisia, today a member of the Top ten in the men’s category and Angola seventh in the ladies’ category. Angola are amongst the heavy weights in international basketball followed by Nigeria. Tunisia are following in the galaxy with a bit of appetite. Other strides have been made in fighting sports and martial arts. Thus Algeria are the solid leaders of Africa, while Tunisia and Egypt are not far from excellence in judo. In the recent past, these two countries have had athletes climb of the world podium and grab several medals. Then in 2008 in Beijing, Algeria’s Benikhlef and her compatriot Soraya Haddad grabbed the continent’s first Olympic medals in the discipline. African can count on judo to grab some medals as well as count on some excellent athletes to grab medals in boxing and taekwondo. To be convinced, one just have to take a glance on the world rankings updated by the international federations. There are more African athletes making giant strides on the rankings. As compared to the number of medals won every four years at Olympics by great European, Asian and American countries, the African rate is still modest. But if it has to be taken in terms of quality, Africa has to be proud. The increase of regional training centres in disciplines like judo, karate or collective sports, the increase of the Olympic scholarships and cooperations across the world enable Africa to gradually leave from the dependence on football and athletics. At the London Games, the public will has an opportunity to applaud the African athletes as have been done before by those in Beijing, Athens, Atlanta or Tokyo.