Olympic pride burns fiercely in Africa

Finishing last at the Olympics is as big a triumph as winning medals for many athletes from Africa.

“I’m really proud of myself for coming this far,” said Botswana’s Amantle Montsho, who ended up in last place in the women’s 400 metres final.

“I made the final and that is important,” said Montsho, hailed as a heroine back home on a continent where millions live in poverty, funding for sport is not a priority and training facilities are among the world’s most spartan.

“This experience has not been futile. I have learned a lot that I will take with me to London [at the 2012 Olympics],” said the 25-year-old.

Apart from Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes, who have won 13 medals between them so far, many other Africans will leave Beijing empty handed but simply proud like Montsho to have taken part in the Olympics.

Lots of African athletes do not have the world’s finest coaches, the sponsorship and the state-of-the-art equipment that rivals from sporting giants like China, the United States and Russia enjoy.

“With only two 50-metre swimming pools in all of Uganda, [our swimmer Aya Nakitanda] does not stand a chance at winning a medal,” said senior Ugandan team official Justine Ligyalingi, bringing home the limitations many Africans face in training.

“The Olympics are not just about medals,” he said while watching swimmers from Malawi, Swaziland, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda and Uganda taking with the world’s best in the 50-metre freestyle preliminaries to loud cheers from the crowd.

“[The Games] are about knowing we are part of the world. That is the Olympic spirit,” said Ligyalingi.

Sudan’s Muna Durka, whose country has been racked by decades of conflict, crashed out in the first round of the women’s 3 000 metres steeplechase but that did not erase her joy at simply making it to Beijing.

“This is my first Olympics and I am happy to have represented my country and it has been a great experience,” said Durka.

“We do not have many athletes in Sudan, so just being here is a big deal,” said the 20-year-old.

“I will probably do better in London.
The [Sudan athletics] federation sent me to train in Kenya and they are the best. I qualified for the Olympics after a few months of training there.”

On a continent where sport is still sometimes seen as a male domain, athletics officials hope the performances of women like Montsho will inspire others.

“[Montsho] did very well. We are trying to encourage the culture of participating in sports for women back home and she has showed them that nothing is impossible,” said Botswana’s athletics coach Bobby Gaseitsiwe.- Reuters

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