Celebrating the pride of Africa
As the Senegalese capital Dakar continues preparations to host the fourth Summer Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2022, we look back at five of the most spectacular performances from African athletes at previous editions of the YOG.
The inaugural YOG Singapore 2010 saw the legendary Michael Phelps serve as an Ambassador for the Games, but it was a younger swimmer, South African teenager Chad le Clos, who made headlines after winning a gold, three silvers and a bronze medal in the pool. The 17-year-old from Durban was crowned the men’s 200m individual medley champion, as well as finishing second in the 400m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly. Two years later, he won gold in the 200m butterfly at the Olympic Games London 2012, beating Phelps. “The Youth Olympics hold a special place in my heart,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the YOG, I wouldn’t have achieved success. I looked up to Phelps when he was an Ambassador for Singapore 2010.”
Need for speed
Nigeria won four medals at the YOG Singapore 2010, and half of those were secured by 16-year-old sprint sensation Josephine Omaka. The teenager began her Games with gold in the 100m in the Bishan Stadium after beating American Myasia Jacobs in the final in a time of 11:58. “I’m just so happy,” she said. “Before the race I was so nervous and was crying and praying to God to let these be tears of joy.” Two days later, Omaka teamed up with compatriots Nkiruka Florence Nwakwe and Bukola Abogunloko and South African Izelle Neuhoff as part of a mixed NOC Team Africa for the women’s medley relay race, clinching silver ahead of Team Europe.
Africa had never won a medal of any description at the Olympic Winter Games ahead of the inaugural Winter YOG Innsbruck 2012, but that all changed when Adam Lamhamedi made history in Austria representing Morocco. The 18-year-old was up against 54 other athletes from 46 National Olympic Committees in the men’s super-G on the slopes at Patscherkofel, and wrote his name into the record books with a superb run, finishing 0.12 seconds ahead of Sweden’s Fredrik Bauer. “I wanted to prove that Moroccans can ski well, and I proved it,” he said. “This represents that in life you can do everything; never give up.” Lamhamedi’s extraordinary story continued two years later when he qualified for the men’s slalom and giant slalom at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
An athlete’s ability to produce their very best form at the right moment is the key to success on the big stage, and that’s exactly what Kenyan middle-distance runner Gilbert Soet did in the men’s 1,500m at the YOG Nanjing 2014. The 16-year-old was not one of the pre-race favourites in China, but in his heat he ran 3:45.21 to finish first and qualify for the final. It was his fastest-ever time for the distance and, three days later, the teenager set another personal best, incredibly taking over three seconds off his previous time, to win gold ahead of Mulugeta Assefa of Ethiopia and Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim from Djibouti.
The modern pentathlon at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018 saw Egyptian duo Salma Abdelmaksoud and Ahmed Elgendy sweep all before them, claiming four of the nine medals on offer. Abdelmaksoud began the North African march with victory in the women’s individual event and, 24 hours later, Elgendy repeated the trick with gold in the men’s event. The pair, however, were not finished there and Elgendy made it two gold medals when he teamed up with Gu Yewen of China to win the mixed relay. Abdelmaksoud partnered Argentinean Franco Serrano in the same race, but had to settle for second behind her compatriot. “Of course, I’m feeling great, feeling proud to be the Youth Olympic champion,” Elgendy said. “It’s been my dream for four years. Last year was very hard – many competitions, many ups and downs – but now I’m feeling great.”