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Stellar qualifiers raise Africa’s hopes of a Paris gold heist

BUILDING on a number of stellar performances in Olympic qualifiers, African athletes are primed for success at the Paris Olympics.

PREPARATIONS for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games are in full swing and African countries are assembling their teams for the world’s premier sports competition, which features up to 200 teams from across the globe.

While African countries haven’t amassed as many medals as powerhouses like the USA — whose all-time Olympic medal count exceeds 2,600 compared to Kenya’s 113, the highest in Africa — African athletes are likely to continue to deliver unforgettable Olympic moments.

From Kenya’s steeplechase legacy to Ethiopia’s marathon successes to South Africa’s excellence in the swimming pool, there will be no shortage of moments when African flags will fly high at Paris 2024.

With less than two months to go (the event runs from July 26 until August 11), African athletes from across the continent look ready to shine, given their stellar performances in qualifiers, past Olympics, and other competitions.

Earlier in May, Athletics Kenya revealed that Kenya’s final, highly experienced marathon team for the Paris 2024 would be led by Eliud Kipchoge, who according to his bio on the Olympics website is “the greatest marathoner of all time.”

40-year-old Kipchoge is one of the toughest opponents any marathoner globally will have to face, considering the list of his achievements is rich and illustrious since his Olympic debut in Athens in 2004.

Besides winning back-to-back gold medals at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 marathons, the distance legend is the third man in history to clinch two Olympic marathon titles, and he’s aiming for a third at Paris 2024.

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Teammates Benson Kipruto and Alex Kiplagat also have potential and in a 2023 interview with Olympics.com, Kenyan legend Paul Tergat predicted that Kenya could sweep the marathon medals in Paris.

However, the marathon will be fiercely contested, with Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion, making a comeback. The 42-year-old last competed at an Olympic Games in London, in 2012.

In the women’s marathon, Kenya’s team includes stars like Peres Jepchirchir, Hellen Obiri, and Brigid Kosgei.

Obiri, fresh off her second consecutive win at the 2024 Boston Marathon, is a strong contender alongside Jepchirchir, an Olympic gold medalist and the 2024 London Marathon champion. Again, the Kenyans will face tough competition from Ethiopian Tigst Assefa and others.

Beyond the marathon, African athletes are also expected to excel in relays, especially the men’s 4×400 meters. At the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas, Botswana’s young team won gold and earned direct Olympic qualification. Teams from Nigeria and South Africa also secured spots in various relay events.

Notably, team Botswana includes upcoming stars like 20-year-old Letsile Tebogo who is also emerging as a strong contender for Africa’s first Olympic gold in top-speed disciplines including the 100m and 200m. While ambitious, Tebogo’s record is taking shape, especially after winning gold and bronze respectively at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest.

However, in what is seemingly Africa’s awakening in sprint events, sprinters from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are emerging into strong competitors in the global space possibly challenging Americans in this discipline.

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Ranked third, globally after Americans, Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, is Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya, who holds the record of the fastest man in Africa with his record standing at 9.77. Despite his Olympic debut in 2020 in Tokyo being short-lived, ending in the semi-finals round, his record since then has been encouraging.

Still in the sprints, if Tebogo and Omanyala lag, South African Akani Simbine is yet another hopeful who could place Africa above the world in this discipline. Simbine proved this at the Shanghai/Suzhou Diamond League track and field athletics last April when he upset former champions Fred Kerley and Christian Coleman with a winning time of 10.01 seconds. This is one of the many achievements the 30-year-old has to his name.

Zambian sprinter Muzala Samukonga is yet another sprinting star in the 400m category we can expect to shine at the Paris Olympics.

After bagging the world U-20 800m silver medal in the 2023 World Championships and later at the Diamond League Trophy, 19-year-old Emmanuel Wanyonyi is yet another African star to watch at the Paris Olympics.

Beyond track events, Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui’s impressive swimming win in the 400m freestyle category at the Tokyo Olympics despite having made it to the finals as the slowest qualifier highlights the random surprises to anticipate at the Olympics.

The 18-year-old student, in 2023 became a world champion in 800m freestyle at the 2023 World Championships beating stars like Australia’s Sam Short.

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Egyptian swimmers also are expected to pose immense competition in Paris with stars like Marwan El Kamash and Abdelrahman Sameh who earned some of the highest number of medals at the 13th Africa Games in Ghana, expected to shine.

South Africa is a strong contender in this discipline with stars such as Chad le Clos, and 20-year-old Matthew Sates in the men’s category and Tatjana Smith (formerly Schoenmaker) making a strong team for the Olympics.

In lesser-known sports and in this case also in the water, South African surfers Jordy Smith and Sarah Baum could easily cause upsets.

The list of potential African stars is extensive, and judging by past stellar performances, there is no limit to the number of athletes and disciplines where we can expect Africans to shine in Paris.

While the Olympics has, historically been a sporting event where athletes pursue the prestige that comes with winning an Olympic medal, this year’s Olympics is particularly historical, as for the first time, World Athletics will award prize money, with US$50,000 for each gold medal in the 48 athletics events.

By BONFACE ORUCHO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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