The 2016 Olympic Games is under way in Rio de Janeiro, with 206 nations and a refugee team from across the globe competing for medals in Brazil.

Track and field athletics is one of the most popular sports at the Summer Games, with African nations primed to do well in a number of the events in Rio. As the eagerly awaited athletics events  begin on Friday, we take a look at six African track athletes who have the potential to win an Olympic medal in Brazil.

Caster Semenya

Semenya has been the most dominant athlete with regards to the women’s 800m race during the course of this year. At a July Diamond League event in Monaco the 25-year-old South African posted a time of 1:55.33 in the 800m, beating her previous best of 1:55.45 and sending a clear message to her competitors.

She has won every major 800m race that she has competed in this season and is determined to go one better than the silver medal she earned at London 2012. She will also be competing in the women’s 400m race, and could return to SA with a couple of medals in tow.


Caster Semenya of South Africa reacts after competing in the Women’s 800m Semifinals of the London 2012 Olympic games. © Michael Steele/Getty

Did you know:  Semenya is currently studying for a Sports Science Degree in South Africa at the North-West University.

David Rudisha

The Kenyan middle-distance runner won an Olympic gold medal in the men’s 800m event in London four years ago and  is looking to defend that title at Rio 2016. He remains the world record holder in that particular race, with the 27-year-old achieving a time of 1:40.91 to win the event at the previous Summer Games. He is unlikely to break his own record, but a medal could certainly be in Rudisha’s Brazilian destiny.


2016 Laureus World Sports Awards at the Messe Berlin

Did you know: Olympic blood runs through Rudisha’s veins, as his father Daniel Rudisha won a silver medal for Kenya in the 4X400m relay at the 1986 Games in Mexico City.

Wayde Van Niekerk

South Africa’s hope in the men’s 400m race will be squarely placed on the humble shoulders of 24-year-old Van Niekerk, who is currently the world champion in his favourite event.

He made history at the Free State Championships in March by becoming the only athlete ever to run the 100m under 10 seconds, the 200m under 20 seconds and the 400m in under 44 seconds, though he will only take part in the 400m race in Rio. He should win gold, based on his current form, and was Team South Africa’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony.


IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium. © Getty

Did you know:  Van Niekerk is a big Liverpool fan, and he was thrilled when the club’s goalkeeper Simon Mignolet congratulated him via Twitter on winning the men’s 400 metres final during the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.

Tirunesh Dibaba

The Ethiopian three-time Olympic gold medallist is back for more glory in Rio, and will certainly be amongst the major competitors for the women’s 5,000m and 10,000m events. Dibaba has the pedigree and experience to emerge victorious once again, and it would be a surprise not to see her step onto the podium in at least one of her two long-distance races in Brazil.

Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia celebrates winning gold in the Women’s 10,000m Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games. © Michael Steele/Getty

Did you know:  Dibaba is nicknamed the ‘baby faced destroyer’ for the powerful competitor that lurks beneath her soft features.

Blessing Okagbare

Commonwealth Games women’s 100m champion Okagbare is Team Nigeria’s major hope on the track in Rio, and will be aiming to return to West Africa will some silverware to show for her athletic efforts.

The 27-year-old showed excellent form at the Nigerian national trials held in Sapele, Delta State recently, and will be confident of springing a surprise in Rio with her personal best of 10.79 in the 100m. In addition to the women’s 100m and 200m races, Okagbare will take part in the women’s 4X100m relay and the long jump events.

(L-R) Silver medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica , Gold medallist Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria and bronze medallist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100 metres at Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow. © Clive Rose/Getty
 Did you know:  Ensuring that sport was kept as a family theme, Okagbare married Nigerian footballer Igho Otegheri in September 2014.
Taoufik Makhloufi

Algeria’s Makhloufi is no stranger to Olympic achievements, having won a gold medal in the men’s 1500m race at London 2012. He is aiming to defend his title in Rio, having qualified for the event and maintaining a focus on doing well in the distance.

The North African will have a great deal of competition for the medal positions in his favourite race, but he will be confident that history can repeat itself in Brazil. He will also compete in the men’s 800m event, going head to head with Kenya’s David Rudisha in that race.

Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria crosses the finish line to win the gold in the Men’s 1500m Final of 2012 Olympic Games. © Cameron Spencer/Getty

Did you know: Makhloufi began his international athletics career in 2007 at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, finishing 82nd in an 8km junior race. He then discovered his talents in middle-distance running, and has since become successful in 800m and 1,500m events globally.