Olympics Special – African athletes to watch at the Tokyo Olympics

Photo: IOC

As the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games gather steam, African countries are looking to bag more gold, silver and bronze medals – in a wider selection of sports – than ever before. Here are some athletes to watch.

Seth Onyango, bird Newsroom

African teams are hoping to build on their 2016 Rio Olympic successes in the ongoing Tokyo competition, with more countries from the continent featuring athletes in disciplines outside of what has historically constituted the continent’s medal-winning orbit.

Tunisia is seated top of the African medals ladder with two medals – a gold and a silver – including a surprise medal in swimming. Teenager Ahmed Hafnaoui took gold in the 400m with a 3:43.36 in the pool while Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi won silver in the men’s Taekwondo 58kg category.

South Africa also has two medals – both silver – through women athletes Tatjana Schoenmaker (100m breaststroke) and Bianca Buitendag (surfing), while Nigeria has earned bragging rights after recently becoming the first African nation to beat 15-time Olympic basketball champions, USA and is also eyeing a medal.

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur is eyeing gold after having recently dispatched three successive tennis Grand Slam champions – in Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Iga Swiatek – to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

South African sprinter Akani Simbine and Burkinabe triple jumper Fabrice Hugues Zango are primed to become continental heroes in the discipline often dominated by America and Jamaica.

Similarly in rugby, South Africa, which won the bronze medal at the inaugural rugby sevens tournament in Rio in 2016 is now gunning for gold.

Zimbabwe has sent its first black swimmer to the Olympics. Seventeen-year-old Donata Katai won African youth titles and broke youth records once held by two-time Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry, who is not only Zimbabwe’s most successful swimmer but also Africa’s most decorated Olympian.

There are also two athletes representing Africa in the newly debuted climbing sports in the Tokyo Games — and hope to inspire the continent’s next crop of athletes to take up the sport. The duo are South Africa’s 20-year-old Christopher Cosser in the men’s event and 17-year-old Erin Sterkenburg in the women’s competition.

Despite failing to qualify for the next round, Nigeria’s sole representative in the rowing event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Esther Toko, showed that African countries are engaging in more and more fields than the running events they are known for. Nonetheless, both Southern and East Africa are well represented in both long and shorter distances in the running events in Tokyo.

Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge is keen to repeat Ethiopian Abebe Bikila’s feat from Tokyo 1964, where he became the first double Olympic marathon champion.

There are some 35 Africans athletes who are expected to medal in their various disciplines in the ongoing summer games.

They include runners Taoufik Makhloufi (Tunisia), Nijel Amos (Botswana), Marie-Josée Ta Lou (Ivory Coast), Gina Bass (Gambia), Selemon Barega (Ethiopia), Letesenbet Gidey (Ethiopia), Brigid Kosgei (Kenya), Akani Simbine (South Africa) as well as Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei both Ugandan.

Potential medalists in other disciplines include Scott Vincent (Zimbabwe-Golf), Oussama Mellouli (Tunisia-swimming), Boipelo Awuah (South Africa-skateboarding), Ines Boubakri (Tunisia-fencing), Rodney Govinden (Seychelles-sailing), Chad Le Clos (South Africa-swimming), Deisy Nhaquile (Mozambique-sailing), and Ons Jabeaur (Tunisia-tennis).

Others are Ramzi Boukhiam (Morocco-surfing), Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea-cycling), Khadija Mardi (Morocco-boxing), Azmy Mehelba (Egypt-shooting), Ruth Gbagbi (Ivory Coast-Taekwondo), Giana Farouk (Egypt-Karate), Hugues Fabrice Zango (Burkina Faso-Tripple Jumper), Cheick Cissé (Ivory Coast-Taekwondo), and Caitlin Rooskrantz (South Africa-Gymnastics).

Africa teams aiming for podium finishes are Copper Queens (Zambia-Football), D’Tigers (Nigeria-Basketball), The Pearls (Angola-Handball), and Blitzboks (South Africa-Rugby Sevens).

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, African teams defied all expectations to win a total of 45 medals, making it the continent’s most successful Olympics.