Africa’s Gains At Olympic Athena 2004

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The Horn of Africa -Ethiopia was the best placed African country on the final medals rating table assuring the continent a place in the sporting world by scooping seven medals -two gold, three silver and two bronze at the just ended 28th Olympiad.

Other countries which gave Africa pride and a reason to smile were Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon and Eritrea out of the 71 countries that managed to get at least one medal.

Morocco was the second best African nation with three medals -two gold and a silver, Kenya home to the continent’s best long distance runners came third with seven medals -one gold, four silver and two bronze while South Africa came fourth with six medals -one gold, three silver and two bronze.

The 20-year-old swimming sensation, Kirsty Coventry ratcheted Zimbabwe to the fifth spot on the continent after she won gold, a silver and bronze in the 200m individual medley. Cameroon’s only gold assured them the number six position while Nigeria who got two silver medals and ninth placed Eritrea with a bronze were the only other African country on the medals table.

Kenyan Ezekiel Kemboi won the 3, 000 meter steeple chase. Hicham El Guerrouj broke new ground and secured a place in sporting history as the greatest 1 500 meters runner of all time. "I am really happy, I feel like a baby, a three-month-old baby," the Moroccan said after winning a tightly contested race against Kenyan Bernard Lagat.

Kirsty Coventry carried the Zimbabwean flag high in Athens when she won three medals -gold, bronze and silver in the women’s swimming competition. Zimbabwe poured glowing praise on its "Golden Girl" for ending a 24-year Olympic medal drought on its shelves.

On her return home, Kirsty was given a heroes welcome and President Robert Mugabe hosted a reception to honor her. Kirsty was given a diplomatic passport and US$50, 000 for her studies in the US for putting Zimbabwe on the global sporting map.

"I do hope that we have taken note that the product which she brought us from Athens was a result of real toil over the years -efforts underlining some degree of discipline, efforts that produce some habits," Mugabe said. "Well done, Golden Girl. May God lead you in the future--you are one with us, we are together."

Africa’s dominant 800 meters force and Mozambican hopeful Maria Mutola faltered at the last minute and was deposed by her friend and training partner Kelly Holmes of Britain who clinched title in a surprising finish to the line in one minute 56:38.

Mutola who finished fourth was gunning to become the first African woman in Olympic history to win two 800 meters gold in succession. Sports commentators attribute her poor performance to a nagging hamstring injury.

Ethiopia’s Ejegayehu Dibaba was left stunned in second place after getting overly confident of winning the gold medal and under rating the China’s Xing Huina who eventually won the women’s 10, 000 meters final.

"I didn’t see where the Chinese girl came from. Had I known I would have put in more effort and passed her."

Africa also retained its dominance in the men’s 10 000 meters in Athens. Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia took the baton from his compatriot Haile Gebrselassie to become the Olympic champion in the track event.

Gebrselassie has in the last few years lost the steam following difficulties with injuries while his counterpart has been in good shape and moving on to higher ground in the tracks. "Bekele’s star has been on the rise for a couple of years now, but Friday’s race seemed to mark the start of a new era," wrote one sports commentator. "And you have to say that Bekele looks like he will be tough to beat in the 5, 000 meters as well.

"Maybe he can become the first man to match the achievement of his compatriot Miruts Yifter who won the 5 000m and 10 000m double in Moscow in 1980 - not even Gebrselassie was able to do that."

Sports analysts see Bekele as a huge talent who possesses great strength from his cross country running and has more speed than Gebrselassie.

Ethiopia was the best performing African country at the 1980 Moscow Olympics at a time when newly independent Zimbabwe women’s hockey team scooped a gold medal and assured the southern African country the number two spot of Africa’s best nations on the medals table.

Since then, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and lately South Africa were the continent’s torch bearers at the world sporting events that were held in Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000).

South Africa too, gave Africa some joyous moments when their swimming team won the 400m freestyle relay at the 2004 Athens Games in a world record 3min 13,17sec.

The victory brings to four, the total number of gold medals won by South Africa ever since it was re-admitted to the Olympic movement at Barcelona 1992.

Zimbabwe and South Africa’s swimmers set the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens alight with magnificent victories that assured Africa a place in the sporting history of the Olympic movement.

Although Africa’s victories were modest, the giant continent at least managed to assault the invincibility of the Americans, Australians, Chinese and Europeans in its own niche of sporting prowess -swimming and long distance track events.

But a sad development is the way some countries in Europe and the US are flinging their dollar power to entice African athletes to renounce their citizenship in to convert Africa’s golden victories into Europe’s or America’s.

One top Kenyan athlete Kiptui is said to have renounced his Kenyan birth right in favor of a European one putting a damper on Africa’s hopes of rekindling its sporting prowess and reclaiming its rightful position on the global sporting arena.

Above all, Africa is making good strides as it plays its part in the Olympic movement’s quest for universal peace and the exalted qualities of body, mind and spirit that transcend cultures and artificial world boundaries.

Africa too, says Efharisto to Greece!



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