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Overseas-based athletes boost Africa at Games

Overseas funding and training has boosted the number of medals that have gone to African athletes at the Beijing Olympics.
/ Source: Reuters

Overseas funding and training has boosted the number of medals that have gone to African athletes at the Beijing Olympics.

Almost half of the 13 medals for Africa were collected by athletes not living on the continent.

The best example is U.S.-based swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who claimed three silvers and one gold for troubled Zimbabwe.

Tunisia swimmer Oussama Mellouli, who got gold for men’s 1500-meter freestyle, also lives in the United States.

Togo’s first Olympic medal, a bronze, came courtesy of French-born kayaker Benjamin Boukpeti, who dimly remembers visiting the country of his father’s birth as a young boy.

With millions of people still living in poverty in Africa, funding for sports development usually takes a backseat and promising athletes who dream of Olympic glory risk harming their prospects if they remain in the continent.

Being scouted by overseas universities, clubs or through scholarships, going abroad is a ticket to success.

“It is very difficult to be an athlete in Africa. Everything to support an athlete has to do with money: from physiotherapists to coaches, to masseurs and the best facilities,” said Nigeria’s Oludamola Osayomi, semifinalist for the women’s 100 meters.

Based in the U.S. for the past three years, Osayomi said she probably wouldn't ever have made it to the Olympics if she was still in Nigeria.

Cameroon’s triple jump gold medalist, Francoise Mbango Etone, made a plea for financial backing after she retained her gold medal here on Sunday. She currently competes without the help of a professional coach.

“It’s not the sponsorship that motivates me, but I want to leave my name in the world ... I wonder if I could find a sponsor who could help me and recognize I’m a two-time Olympic champion,” she said.

Kenya and Ethiopia, who excel in track, are the main exceptions with their locally based athletes taking the podium, but the former has lost many athletes to other countries.

Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who competed for Kenya as Stephen Cherono, emigrated to Qatar in 2003 for a package that included a $1,000 monthly stipend for life. Shaheen, world record holder in the 3,000 meters steeplechase, withdrew from the Games due to injury.