Rarely a Gold Medal for African Nations

Poverty and politics keep many of the continent's athletes from reaching the podium at the Games.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even if the facilities could be fixed up, training athletes is extremely expensive. 

Swaziland National Olympic Committee chief Muriel Hofer has said that it costs upward of $350,000 per year — and about 14 years — to train an Olympian. The percapita GDP of the mountainous Southern African kingdom is about $5,000.

And lately, another culprit affecting African athletics seems to be politics.

Kenyan officials said they would live up to their stunning 14-medal haul from Beijing. When they got edged out by other runners in key events they were expected to win, social networks went wild with theories — everything from management problems to poorly selected athletes to lack of morale. The fracas forced Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to issue a statement in an apparent attempt to assuage the nation. He also said the East African nation would bid to host the 2024 Games.

Officials from Ghana have openly said that its poor performance this year is directly linked to poor planning and to leadership problems in the country’s Olympic committee. The nation formerly known as the British colony of Gold Coast has never brought home a namesake medal.

“It’s been an eye-opener for the administration,” Ghana team spokesman Erasmus Kwaw told The Root. “We can only hope we can do things in a much better way.” That lack of planning and funding, he said, means “we are not playing at a level playing ground. That is a major problem we are facing, and until we address that issue, we might be far away from getting another medal at the Olympic Games.”

Then there is another, controversial theory for why African athletes are being edged out. American Olympic medalist Michael Johnson said in a British documentary that he believes that African descendants  have an edge because of their enslaved past.

“Difficult as it was to hear,” he said in the documentary that traced his roots to West Africa, “Slavery has benefited descendants like me — I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

Johnson’s representative did not return numerous inquiries from The Root seeking comment. But when asked what he thought of this theory, Kenyan team spokesman Peter Angwenyi laughed.

“No!” he said. “It is not all black athletes winning the races! Look at the man who won silver in the mens 10,000 meters. It doesn’t matter. We’re a global village now.”

Anita Powell is a Johannesburg-based journalist who has covered Africa for five years and Iraq and Afghanistan previously. She’s in London following the games and her favorite sport, boxing. Follow her on Twitter.