Navigating uncharted waters for Togo
Born, raised and trained in France, slalom canoeist Benjamin Boukpeti opted to represent Togo, the country of his father, and claimed a historic first ever Olympic medal for the West African nation in the K-1 at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Born in Lagny-sur-Marne in the suburbs of Paris to a Togolese father and a French mother, Benjamin Boukpeti enrolled at the local canoe and kayak club at the age of 10, where he was able to hone his slalom skills on the local river. Like his older brother, Olivier, who also went on to represent France, he fell in love with the sport, making rapid progress and set himself the challenge of competing at the highest level.
From Toulouse to Togo
Boukpeti relocated to the city of Toulouse to study at the local university and continue his canoe training. His progress in the latter was interrupted by a series of shoulder injuries that required two operations. Born in a country that boasted a large number of top international canoeists, in 2003 Boukpeti made the bold decision to represent Togo. From that point on, he devoted himself to the development of his discipline in Africa, and qualified to represent his adopted country at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The sole African competing at Olympic Whitewater Stadium in Helliniko, he reached the semi-finals of the K-1 and finished 18th in the final rankings.
A historic bronze
“I’ve set myself two objectives for the next Olympic cycle: to gain an MBA and reach the final at the Games in Beijing,” Boukpeti explained after Athens. Having achieved the first, he was then chosen to be the flag-bearer for Togo during the Opening Ceremony on 8 August 2008 at Beijing’s National Stadium. Four days later, at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, he recorded the best time in the K-1 semi-finals. By the end of his final run, he had secured the bronze medal behind Germany’s Alexander Grimm (gold) and France’s Fabien Lefèvre (silver). The ecstatic image of Togo’s first ever Olympic medallist brandishing the paddle that he had just snapped in two after crossing the finish, captured the hearts of people around the world.
Flying the flag for Africa
“Benji” was back in Olympic action at London 2012, again reaching the K-1 final, and this time finishing 10th overall. Then it was back to Togo in order to focus on his project to develop kayaking in the country, and he also set up a sports camp, which gives several hundred kids every year the chance to try their hand at eight different Olympic sports, including, of course, canoeing. He is a member of the Association of African Olympic Committees (ANOCA), where he is responsible for Zone 3, covering West Africa. He is also one of 54 former and current athletes chosen by Peace and Sport to be one of their “Champions for Peace”.