At the Tokyo Olympics, African athletes to follow

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The Olympic Stadium of the Tokyo Games, July 22, 2021.

Five years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, eleven African countries (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Burundi, Niger, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco) left South America with medals. Kenya had offered itself the biggest harvest with thirteen awards, six of which were gold.

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This year in Tokyo, the continent’s main chances of winning medals lie in athletics, where Kenyans and Ethiopians are among the top specialists in the world, but also in boxing, martial arts and swimming. Here are some athletes that will have to be followed closely during this Olympic fortnight.

  • Nigeria men’s basketball team
Players of the Nigerian men's basketball team on July 10 in Las Vegas.

Nigeria took over from Angola at the top of the African men’s basketball hierarchy. The D’Tigers, who will participate in their third consecutive Olympics, clearly displayed their ambitions by beating the United States in a friendly match in Las Vegas (90-87) on July 10.

Placed in a difficult group, with Germany, Australia and Italy, the Nigerians, however, have some arguments to advance. The backbone of the selection is mostly made up of players playing in the American NBA, including Precious Achiuwa (Miami Heat), Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves) and the talented – but fragile because regularly injured – Jahlil Okafor (Detroit Pistons) or in the best European championships (Spain, Italy).

The team, a mix of youth and experience, has been coached since February 2020 by the American Mike Brown (51), the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. With him, Nigeria has reached a milestone and the Tokyo scene could be the confirmation.

  • Ons Jabeur (Tunisia, women’s tennis)
Tunisian Ons Jabeur at the Wimbledon tournament on July 5, 2021.

Eighth finalist at Roland Garros, then quarter-finalist at Wimbledon, but also winner of the Birmingham tournament – his first title on the WTA circuit – Ons Jabeur (26) is going through a prosperous period. The player from Tunisia, who now occupies the 23e world rank, represents a real hope for a medal for his country. In 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, she had failed to pass the first round.

Since then, Ons Jabeur has improved a lot in his game, but also mentally. The Tunisian repeats over and over again her intention to join the world top 10 by the end of the year. His latest results were obtained on Parisian clay and on English turf. The hard court at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle.

  • Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya, athletics)
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge at the Enschede Marathon, the Netherlands, April 18, 2021.

Of course, Eliud Kipchoge (36) is five years older than when he won the gold medal in the marathon in Rio in 2 h 8 min 44 s. But time does not seem to have (too) a hold on the performance of the athlete from Kenya, a specialist in long distance races.

The proof ? His victory, in April, at the Enschede marathon (Netherlands), where the 2016 Olympic champion silenced all skeptics with a time (2 h 4 min 30 s) better than that achieved in Brazil. His disappointing performance in October 2020 in London, where the Kenyan had only obtained a modest eighth place, seems to be a distant memory.

In Tokyo, he will be a candidate for his own succession. Eliud Kipchoge, who is a real star in his country, has never stopped forcing himself to intensive training – he runs an average of 250 kilometers per week – and leads an almost monastic life, made up of reading, sleeping and frugal and almost always identical meals. A recipe that has already proven itself.

  • Lamya Matoub (Algeria, karate)
Algerian karateka Lamya Matoub (right) in Madrid, November 10, 2018.

Eliminated during the karate qualification tournament, a discipline that will make its appearance this year at the Olympics, she should not have been present in Tokyo. But Lamya Matoub (29) was drafted by invitation – because she is one of the three best African athletes of the year – and she represents one of the main medal chances for Algeria.

Born in France, where she works as a school teacher, she finally decided to represent her country of origin, with some success so far. She was notably world champion in 2017 in Wroclaw (Poland), in the 68 kg category, and also won the gold medal at the 2015 African Games and the 2018 African Karate Championships.

Results which make her one of the main candidates for Olympic gold. A goal perfectly assumed by the athlete, who has repeatedly ensured that she was aiming for the top step of the podium.

  • Chad le Clos (South Africa, swimming)
South African swimmer Chad le Clos in Gwangju, South Korea on July 26, 2019.

Once again, Chad le Clos will be one of the many swimmers to be expected in Tokyo. At 29, the athlete born in South Africa already has an Olympic record that says a lot about his status.

In 2012, in London, when he was only 20 years old, Chad le Clos had achieved a resounding performance by winning gold in the 200-meter freestyle, ahead of the American Michael Phelps. Four years later, he left Brazil with two silver medals (200 meters freestyle and 100 meters) around his neck.

Since then, the athlete has won several significant titles, including that of world champion in the 200-meter freestyle in 2017. By trying – why not – to approach, or even to break the Olympic record still held by Michael Phelps in 2008 in Beijing (1 min 42 s 96).