It is every athlete’s dream to represent their country at the Olympics. Many dream, but only a few experience the reality of standing on the medals rostrum to the sound of their country’s national anthem.
Great Olympic performances are priceless, and many African athletes and teams have provided moments of sheer brilliance and determination. We take a look at seven of these unforgettable moments which will make any African proud.
I imagine that nothing comes to mind when I reference Eric Moussambani. But when you affix his name with ‘the eel’, your memory will probably hark back to one of the best moments of the 2000 edition of the competition. Mr Moussambani from Equitorial Guinea only entered the competition because of a wildcard draw created to give some of the less prolific nations a helping hand.
Eric had never even seen a 50-metre-long swimming pool before the Sydney events, and so it was unlikely that he would take a medal from one of the more notable names, but most people will remember Eric’s exploits in a heat way before they remember the winner of the final.
If there is one thing that can be said for the Super Eagles, it’s that they have a penchant for doing things the hard way. After a fairly comfortable run into the knock-out stages, they faced a full strength Brazilian team in the semi-finals. Think world champions, The REAL Ronaldo, samba football, doing-tricks-in-an-airport Brazil.
With 12 minutes of regular time to go, Nigeria was down 3-1, but after an Ikpeba goal and a Kanu brace, the 80,000 crowd was stunned.
If that wasn’t enough, a matter of days later in the gold medal match, the team was down 2-1 with 16 minutes to go, but scored a late flurry of goals to give Nigeria one of their only two gold medals in the competition.
It’s fair to say that Kenya have the 800 metres on lock. In the last 30 years, there has only been one instance in which a runner from the country hasn’t stood on the podium, which is no mean feat. David Rushida is definitely that guy. Two world championships, State Commendations of Kenya and probably countless meals named after him at Burger Hut.
His finest moment was at the London Olympics where he became the first runner to ever go under 1:41:00 in the two lap race. After winning the gold medal, he said that ‘the weather was beautiful – I decided to go for it’. Clearly there was something in the air because every runner but one set a personal best and a number of national records were broken.
If Kenya dominate the middle distances, then it’s fair to say that Ethiopia is in control of the longer races. In fact if you look at the flag very close, then the Emblem of Ethiopia has a small picture of a guy running…… I kid. In the 2008 Olympics, Kenenisa Bekele won both the 5000 and 10000m finals, setting records in both.
Despite gaining recognition in his own land, he wasn’t able to win over fans internationally in the same way that shorter distance runners did, leading Usain Bolt to say ‘Bekele just doesn’t get the recognition he deserves’.
At the same time, Tirunesh Dibaba was able to win the same double in the women’s side of the events, making sure that it wasn’t only the men winning the golds.
If swimmer Michael Phelps was to put on all his medals and appear in a rap video, he would probably look like one of the more understated people in the clip, but he definitely has more gold than your average guy. His tally currently stands at 18 gold medals from the Olympic Games alone, but one title he was unable to claim was the 200 metre butterfly in London.
The South African Le Clos finished the race like a man possessed and took advantage of a Phelps error to win by 5/100s of a second.
In the 12 months following the start of the millennium, it seemed you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing the Indomitable Lions. They won the African Cup of Nations in January and represented the continent in the Confederations Cup a year later.
In between they made sure that the Olympics gold medal for football remained in West Africa, beating a Xavi inspired Spain team on penalties in the final. The team featured a number of young players that made an impact like Geremi, Kameni and Lauren and of course a baby-faced Samuel Eto’o Fils.
The story of Chioma Ajunwa’s life is one of those journeys worthy of a daytime documentary. After growing up in less than humble surroundings in the Imo State area, her father died when she was a child and she was unable to go to university due to financial restrictions. After a spell as a mechanic she was part of the disastrous Nigerian women’s football team at the 1991 World Cup. At the same time she competed in the All African Games, winning the long jump gold medal. She then faced a four year ban due to failing a drug test………. Just imagine how tragic the story would have been if it ended there.
Fortunately she was able to redeem herself by winning the long jump in the Atlanta Olympics, becoming the first West-African woman and first Nigerian to win a gold medal in track and field… Not bad hey? Unfortunately, her exploits were somewhat overshadowed by the Super Eagles… Guess you can’t have it all.
With the Rio Olympics starting imminently, African athletes will no doubt be hoping to mark their names in the sands of time. Good luck to them all, and don’t forget guys, unforgettable moments of victory please.