When Alexander Grimm won the slalom kayak gold medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing, he was handed all the plaudits one would expect for someone who had reached the pinnacle of their sport.
However his achievement was almost overshadowed by the man who claimed bronze. Benjamin Boukpeti
became the first person representing Togo
to win a medal of any colour, and his celebration at the end of his second run proved one of the most iconic moments of Beijing.
Boukpeti was born in France
and had only visited Togo once as a young child prior to his 2008 success.
That didn’t stop the Togolese roaring on their man, and the likeable Toulouse-born kayaker clearly had the lion’s share of neutral supporters on his side at the sun-kissed Shunyi course.
He trained regularly with members of the French and South African
national squads and quickly established his rightful place in the world’s elite.
He qualified for the semi-finals in Athens in 2004
but narrowly failed to make the final. In early 2008 he won the African championships to ensure he could have another go at Olympic success..
He qualified for the final in eighth place, with some of the cream of the world’s kayakers
– like Britain’s 2004 silver medallist Campbell Walsh – further down the timesheets.
His fellow competitors and the assembled crowd could hardly believe their eyes come finals day when Boukpeti surged into the lead after the opening run. The world number 56 was poised to put his country on the Olympic map at last.Germany
’s Grimm produced a blistering second run – almost two seconds quicker than the rest of the field - to clinch the gold medal and Australian Warwick Draper won silver.
Crucial errors cost Boukpeti dear in the second run and though the crowd was initially disappointed he couldn’t take gold, his elation was clear to see.
He raised his arms in delight before bringing the paddle down hard and snapping it in two, his place in Olympic history and on the front of most of the next day’s newspapers joyously sealed.