AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER
THE Tokyo Olympics are finally upon us – albeit with questionable energy – and this instalment of games sees a number of new and returning faces representing the African continent.
While known countries such as Uganda; Egypt; Nigeria and South Africa have increased their representation at the summer games with the introduction of new sporting codes, some notable faces will be missing the tournament due to IAAF rulings or reluctance to participate amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Many sports fans will be eager to see how South Africa’s sprinters and swimmers will do against the USA’s dominant sprinters, while others will hope to see Nigeria’s basketball participate on a similar momentum from their exhibition match against Australia and the USA in Las Vegas.
Here are some names of the athletes set to make the continent proud in Japan.
Tennis fans may be familiar with Mayer Sherif’s name, being the first Egyptian woman tennis player to win a main-draw match during the 2021 Australian Open.
Sherif also made history as the first Egyptian female player to make it into the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, at the 2020 French Open, losing in three sets to world No. 3, Karolína Plíšková.
She is currently ranked 190th in the World Tennis Rankings.
KENYA MEN’S SEVENS TEAM
Kenya’s second team to qualify for Tokyo after their women counterparts are their sevens rugby team (Shujaa), who will be making their second appearance at the Olympic games after their debut in Rio 2016.
Led by Andrew Amonde, the men’s team qualified through the 2019 Africa Men’s rugby finals, beating out Uganda 31-0. They go up against fellow African nation South Africa, as well as Ireland and the USA.
The Shujaa were the second team from Kenya to qualify after the women’s sevens team qualified as the first team from the East African nation for the Summer Games.
Representing one-third of Liberia in the Olympic village, Emmanuel Matadi is no stranger to the summer games, having represented his nation in his debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics where he was also the flagbearer.
Matadi currently holds national records for the 100m outdoor (9.93s); 60m indoor (6.58s), and 200m (21.10s) respectively.
It’s hard not to think of Letesenbet Gidey’s name when Ethiopia pops up on the Olympics radar. The East African nation buzzes with track and long-distance runners who dominate their disciplines not only for Ethiopia but also within the global African diaspora.
Gidey will be making her Olympic debut after competing so far in world championships. She made history on the 8th June 2021 where she broke Sifan Hassan’s 10,000 m world record of 29:06.82 at a time trial in Hengelo, Ethiopia, running a time of 29:01.03, and running her last lap in 63 seconds.
A lot of eyes are going to be on one of Nigeria’s Olympic debutants, Uche Eke, who will represent Nigeria for the first time ever in the gymnastics category. A graduate of Maryland University, Eke gained Tokyo qualification after winning Gold at the 2019 All-Africa Games in Morocco.
Practising gymnastics since the age of three, Eke told the Baltimore Sun: “I dream about raising my hand, saluting, getting ready to perform my routines.
“I dream of walking out on the main stage with the Nigerian colors. Too bad there won’t be any fans there to raise the flag. But it’s ok. It’s all in my heart.”
In another historic first for an African country, Kathleen Noble will be waving the Ugandan flag as she participates in the Women’s Single Scull. She qualified for Tokyo after winning the 2 km single scull race at the 2019 Africa Rowing Regatta held in Tunisia.
Born to Irish missionaries in the Nakaseke District, the swimmer-turned-rower set Uganda’s best time in swimming (30.80 seconds) in the 50m butterfly at the FINA World Swimming Championships.
Ghana’s Benjamin Azamati-Kwaku is one of the country’s strongest prospects going into Tokyo.
The West Texas A&M University student won gold at the 2019 African Games in Rabat emerging as a strong contender for the Olympics.
His Olympics chance came when Azamati-Kwaku made history by breaking a 22-year national record, held by former countryman Leo Myles Mills, in Texas by clocking 9.97 seconds.
Botswana’s first-ever female boxing representative for the Olympics is the naturally talented Keamogetse Kenosi, who set great expectations for herself, after qualifying as the first female boxer for the Tokyo Olympics.
The 23-year-old boxer grabbed silver at the 2020 boxing tourney in Dakar, Senegal, joining the national boxing team, led by team mentor, Lezhezhani “Master” Luza as they head to Japan.
“It means a lot to me… It shows that I have been working hard. I have managed to stay at the top by working hard, listening to my coaches, taking advice from anyone that has helped me a lot to focus,” Kenosi told SportsNation.
A veteran marathon runner, Stephen Kiprotich is no stranger to the Olympic stage, having clinched Uganda’s first Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics in marathon running, the country’s first since 1996.
Kiprotich will be competing against fellow runners Felix Chemonges and Fred Musobo; as well as race against Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge; USA’s Galen Rupp and German national record holder Amanal Petros.
Phatutshedzo “Shaun” Maswanganyi is the wonder kid out of South Africa, who has been lighting up the track in Houston, Texas. The 20-year-old Sowetan qualified for both the 100m and 200m categories, racing alongside national record-holder Akani Simbine.
The current South African national U20 record holder for 60m Indoor (6.65) and 100m (10.06), Maswanganyi’s achievements include winning gold in the 200m, running a wind-assisted 19.93 seconds at the American Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He also clinched silver (100m) and gold (200m) at the U18 and U20 African Championships in Abidjan,
Namibian record holder Christine Mboma heads to the Olympic Village having secured one of her two specialities (20m) after she had withdrawn from the 400m due to the IAAF’s ruling on her testosterone levels.
Prior to Tokyo 2020, Mboma won the Irena Szewińska Memorial in Bydgoszcz, Poland, after setting a new African senior and new world U20 record in the 400 m, with a time of 48.54 seconds to break a 49.10 s 1996’s mark of Falilat Ogunkoya-Osheku.
This result made her the 7th fastest woman of all time in the event with the 12th fastest result ever.