The Olympics is generally considered the greatest sports tournament in the world. It brings together over 200 countries participating in over 100 different sporting events such as football, swimming, and track & field.
Here are ten Africans to leave their mark on Olympic history.
1. David Rudisha – 800 meters – Kenyan
The six feet three inches (190.5cm) Kenyan Athlete is the king of the 800 meters races. He has taken home Olympic gold twice in the 800 meters first in 2012 and the second in 2016.
In 2012, Rudisha had to take on African competitors Nijel Amos (Botswana) and Timothy Kitum (Kenya) in a fairly competitive race. Rudisha came out victorious while fellow Africans claimed gold, silver, and bronze medals.
The 31-year-old keeps getting stronger and he is on course to winning a gold medal at his third Olympics; back to back to back. Legendary status does not come more than in the form of Rudisha. He is the current world record holder and also a 2-time world champion (2011 and 2015).
David Rudisha is the first and only person to ever run under a minute and 41 seconds in the 800ms.
The 800ms is certainly a special event and it takes great technique to secure wins over other worthy competitors.
2. Lucy Ogechukwu Ejike – Powerlifting – Nigeria
Lucy Ogechukwu proved to the world that there is ability in disability. Ejike is a Nigerian Paralympic powerlifter. She has represented Nigeria at five consecutive Paralympic Games from 2000 in Sydney through to 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. She has won medals at each, three gold and two silver.
At the 2008 Beijing Games, Ejike took gold in the 48 kg event. She broke the world record with her first attempt, lifting 125 kg. She broke the record again with the second lift of 130 kg.
3. Kanu Nwankwo – Football – Nigerian
There is perhaps no other person that defined the successes of the all-conquering Nigerian football team at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics than Kanu Nwankwo.
At the 1996 Olympics, Nigeria became the first African country to win the gold medal in football importantly thanks to Kanu’s brace against Brazil in the semi-finals.
The Brazilian side were the heavy favorites and had world-beaters like Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, and Bebeto on their side.
However, Kanu and company dreamed and dared to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the semi-final to secure an all-important 4-3 win. They secured another come from behind victory where they were down 2-1 against Argentina in the final, winning 3-2.
4. Caster Semenya – 800M – South African
If David Rudisha is the king of the 800ms track event, then South Africa’s Caster Semenya is the Queen.
How blessed is Africa to be so dominant in both the male and female categories?
Semenya won Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016. She is also a three-time world champion, claiming gold medals in 2009, 2011, and 2017 World Athletics Championships. Semenya is fast and always leaves her opponents chasing shadows. She also participates in the 1500Ms race, claiming a bronze medal during the 2017 world championships in London.
Semenya stands as an inspirational Olympic legend. Despite the odds and challenges, she has faced, including accusation after accusation about her gender. She has always risen above the occasion, criticisms, and hate to deliver wins after wins making Africans around the world proud.
5. Mary Onyali – 100ms, 200ms, and relay – Nigerian
Mary Onyali Omagbemi is the epitome of longevity.
She won the bronze medal in the 4 × 100 m relay at the 1992 Olympic Games and in the 200 m at the 1996 Olympic Games. She also won the 1994 Commonwealth Games 100 meters title
Her consecutive Olympic appearances from 1988 to 2004 made her the first Nigerian to compete at five Olympics.
6. Haile Gebrselassie – Long Distance Races – Ethiopian
Gebrselassie won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 meters and four World Championship titles in the event. Haile won the first of what would eventually be four consecutive world championship titles in the men’s 10,000 meters at 1993, 1995, 1997, and 1999 World Championships
He is perhaps the first long-distance runner to have achieved global superstar status.
7. Chad Guy Bertrand le Clos – Swimming – South African
Africa’s response to Michael Phelps? Chad Le Clos.
For a long time, there looked to be no one good enough to compete against perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, until South Africa’s Chad Le Clos came on board.
During the 2012 Olympics, Le Clos won the gold medal in the 200m butterfly in 1min 52.96 sec, edging out the two-time defending Olympic champion and world record holder, Michael Phelps, by 0.05 seconds.
Le Clos won the silver medal in the 100m butterfly, tied with Yevgeny Korotyshkin in a time of 51.44 sec, at 0.23 seconds behind Phelps.
He won gold in the 200-meter butterfly and silver in the 100-meter butterfly in the 2012 Olympics in London, as well as silver medals in the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
8. Reginald “Reggie” Edgar Walker – 100Ms – South African
Walker is a South African athlete and the 1908 Olympic champion in the 100 meters, an event he was not among the big favorites for and even faced difficulties traveling for the Olympics.
Walker is still the youngest winner of the Olympic 100 meters as of 2016 at just 19 years and 128 days. He is also the first African to win an Olympic gold medal.
9. Wayde Van Niekerk – 400Ms – South African
Niekerk is a South African track and field sprinter who competes in the 200 and 400 meters. In the 400 meters, he is the current world and Olympic record holder, and reigning Olympic champion.
During the 2016 Olympic Games, in the men’s 400m, Van Niekerk won the gold medal with a world record time of 43.03 seconds. With a reaction time of 0.181 at age 24 years and 30 days, he eclipsed the previous record time of 43.18 seconds set by the legendary Michael Johnson during the 1999 World Championships in Athletics in Seville, Spain.
10. Kenenisa Bekele – Middle distance and Long distance races – Ethiopian
If Gebrselassie handed over the baton of long-distance races championship to anyone, it must have been to his fellow Ethiopian, Bekele.
Bekele won the 10,000m title at the World Championships in Athletics in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009. Matching Haile Gebrselassie’s four in a row win streak.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he won the gold medal in the 10,000m and the silver medal in the 5000m.
Bekele would then go on to win the gold medal in both the 5000m and 10,000m events at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing. His 10,000m gold medal victory in the finals came with a time of 27:01.17, setting a new Olympic Record in the process.
Again in 2008, Bekele finished clear of other competitors and won the 5000-meter finals, shattering Saïd Aouita’s (Morocco) Olympic Record by almost eight seconds with a time of 12:57.82
This list is by no means exhaustive as there are many more AFRICAN OLYMPIC LEGENDS that will feature in the next set of articles.
Who’s your favorite African Olympian?
Do you think Africans will continue to break records in the postponed 2020 Olympic games?