Africa at the Olympics


The long awaited Rio Summer Olympic Games 2016 kick off on Friday 5 August and the record breaking 207 nations will be competing in 28 sporting codes for gold medals. African countries will look to improve their performance from the London Olympic Games in 2012 and some will aim to maintain their achievements. South Africa was the highest ranked African team in London ranked 23rd and totalling 6 medals, half of which were gold.

The world will dance to the beat of the samba when Brazil showcases its opening ceremony and lighting of the Olympic torch on Saturday 6 August at 00:55 Central African Time. 

For the first time in history of the Olympics, South Sudan will be competing independently from Sudan at the global event after being admitted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).


Sudan has competed at the Olympic Games since 1960. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after a referendum. Athlete Guor Marial ran under an Olympic flag at the London Summer Games because South Sudan wasn’t recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but in Rio he will don the national colours of his country.

Earlier this year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach proclaimed that for the first time an Olympic Refugee team will compete in Rio de Janeiro. Bach highlighted that this was to show solidarity with the world’s refugees and a fund of US$2 million was invested in partnership with the United Nations. A team of ten refugee athletes was selected to participate at the event and will run under the Olympic flag, eight of the selected refugees originate from Sub Saharan Africa; half of the athletes were born in South Sudan.

James Nyang Chiengjiek, is part of the refugee team identified as having potential by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and will run at the men’s 400 track and field. Chiengjiek avoided being a child soldier and escaped from South Sudan to Kenya during the Civil war when he was 13 years old and that’s where he started long distance running.

The South African team will be looking to maintain some of the good performances it had in London 2012. The team made some surprises when swimmer Chad le Clos became the talk of the town after edging out world record holder Michael Phelps by five seconds for the gold medal in the 200 metre butterfly. Swimmer Cameron van der Bergh will be looking to defend and maintain his world record in the 100m breast stroke and the South Africa Rowing team will be looking to get another gold medal.

All hopes were on Caster Semenya in London as she carried the flag alongside the now convicted Oscar Pistorius in the opening ceremony in London. She came home with a silver medal in the woman’s 800 metre run and received a lot of criticism for her lacklustre performances after her return home. Semenya will be looking to redeem herself with gold at this year’s Olympics.

The Olympics seek to see the return of the South African men’s football team and they will be opening against the hosts, Brazil. They will be hoping to make another upset since they beat Brazil at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, even though being eliminated in the group stages of the tournament. The hopefuls, Nigeria men’s football team, will arrive on match day as they were delayed in Atlanta, US, due to payment issues and their plane being too small for comfort.

Kenya and Ethiopia acquired all their Olympic medals in London through athletics making them specialists in this sporting code. This will be Ethiopia’s 13th appearance at the Olympics and in London 2012 they were ranked in 24th position below South Africa.

Ethiopian female runners Tirunesh Dibaba, Tiki Gelana, Meseret Defar won gold for the East African country in London. Only Dibaba will be present in Rio to defend her medal. Africa will be looking to dominate the men’s 800 metre run after achieving success in London. Then, Kenyan David Rudisha won gold by breaking his own record and setting a new world record of 1:40:91, for the first time since 1976. Nigel Amos from Botswana received the silver medal and another Kenyan; Timothy Kitum received the Bronze medal.  Kenya was ranked 28th in 2012.

Kenyan athletes have dominated the steeplechase running category throughout the previous years and will be looking to maintain this tradition in Rio. In London, Kenyan athlete, Ezekiel Kemboi, won gold for the 3000 metre steeplechase and fellow countryman Abel Mutai won bronze. It is yet to be seen if Kemboi will defend his medal and do his famous dance in Rio Olympics this year.

With record holder Tiki Gelana absent, Kenyan Priscah Jeptoo will be looking to win gold in the woman’s marathon after she won a silver medal in the previous Olympic Games.

Women’s football has already commenced and African countries have had a bad start. South Africa lost to Sweden by a single goal and the Zimbabwean team that was debuting in the tournament was thrashed by Germany 6-1.

The games will continue until the 21st of August.