Giant on the move
African athletes finding medals hard to come by
With the exception of Zimbabwe’s swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who has collected three silvers, Algeria’s Soraya Haddad and Egypt’s Hesham Mesbah, who won judo bronze meals, and Benjamin Boukpeti, who got bronze in men’s singles kayak slalom for Togo, there have been no Africans on the podium.
And while Boukpeti and Coventry are competing for African countries, they are not based on the continent.
Fortunes may turn in the second week with athletics. Kenya, for example, is targeting at least six golds and Ethiopia may bag two medals from Tirunesh Didaba and Kenenisa Bekele in the 10,000 metres.
South Africa and Nigeria have the biggest African teams for Beijing, with 142 and 89 athletes respectively, but may leave the summer games empty-handed.
Some participants blame inadequate preparation, poor technical support and a lack of finance for the lacklustre performance.
“You do not start preparing for the Olympics a few months before you come,” said Muatara Kaunda, boxing coach for Namibia. “You cannot hope to compete with the other countries that have been preparing for years. Finance is also a big challenge. If you do not pay well, do not expect too much from them.”
Nigerian-born Francis Obikwelu started running for Portugal in 2000, frustrated with the difficulties of earning a living as an athlete in Africa.
“There is a lot of talent in Africa but you need more than that to make it at the Olympics,” the 29-year-old who will compete in the 100 metres and 200 metres told reporters.
“You should not have to worry about whether you will get paid or not and worry about raising money for a ticket to go to competitions. That is difficult for some of us because we have families to take care of.”
Unlike their other counterparts, Olympic medallists from Africa are unlikely to pocket big payouts.
Uganda’s press attache Norman Katende told Reuters their medallists would get “some kind of reward”.
“We do not want to put them under pressure so we do not tell them what they will get if they win a medal but they will get something,” he said not disclosing the amount.
PHOTO: Hesham Mesbah of Egypt bites his medal in the men’s -90 kg judo bronze medal contest A at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon