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Africa's Olympic expectations

GOLDEN GIRL: Dibaba

FROM ETHIOPIA'S Tirunesh Dibaba to Kenya’s Mary Keitany and Geoffrey Mutai via Botswana’s Amantle Montsho and South Africa’s Caster Semenya, Africa’s prolific track stars will light up the longer sprints, as well as the middle and long distance races.

Beyond these is a retinue of African hopefuls set to compete in disciplines in which the continent is not readily associated. The nations of Africa are sending boxers, badminton players and basketball players who have all made their mark at national and continental level and are worthy of wider recognition.

A total of 48 African boxers will be competing in London, with Cameroon and Ghana leading the way for Sub Saharan Africa with four boxers each. In basketball, the Angolan women’s team arrive in east London as Africa’s only female representatives in the competition.

“Our aim at this Olympics is to play as well as we can and reduce the gap in quality between the top teams and ourselves,” said coach Anibal Moreira after the draw.


WORLD CHAMPION: Semenya

They are joined by the Nigeria’s men, who qualified via the Olympic qualifying tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.

They become the second African men’s team to qualify after Tunisia. “I’m very happy. We did what had to be done,” the Nigeria forward Ike Diogu told the Associated Press.

“We knew we were going to face teams that are heavyweights, and we did what we needed to do: win.”

Back in southern Africa, Angola’s greatest medal hopeful is judoka Antonia de Fatima ‘Faia’, who claimed a bronze medal at the recent Judo World Championships in Romania.

“I will give my best in these Games and look forward to beating all opponents. I know it will be very difficult, but the Angolans can be assured that I will fight calmly,” she said in June.

Ugandan Edwin Ekiring made history alongside Zimbabwe’s Eli Mambwe in the badminton in Beijing when they became the first Sub Saharan Africans to compete at the Olympics. Four years later world number 97 Ekiring is back as Africa seeks to carve itself a place in a sport dominated by the Far East, South East Asia and Europe.


HISTORY MAKER: Ekiring

“The Olympics is every sportsman’s dream, having been there four years ago I am sure I will be able to perform because I won’t be nervous like the first time,” he said.

Few African Olympians beyond the long distance track events are as decorated as Kirsty Coventry.

The Zimbabwean will be competing in her third Games and will be looking to add to her Olympic haul of two golds, four silvers and one bronze. It is little wonder that the head of the Zimbabwe Olympic committee Paul Chingoka described her as a “national treasure.”

Coventry hopes to put a recent knee injury behind her to compete in the 100m backstroke, the 200m backstroke and the 200m individual medley.

The white Coventry has often been criticised for not speaking out against the despotic Robert Mugabe, who gave her $100,000 after Beijing and described her as Zimbabwe’s ‘golden girl’.

“One day I plan to return to live in Zimbabwe and I can do much more for the people there in the long term if I keep my position neutral,” she told The Telegraph.

She has earned the affection of her black compatriots and is one of Africa’s greatest medal hopefuls.

Africa has a substantial role in the narrative of London 2012.

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