African Olympians and Paralympians prepare for their London odyssey

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Friday, June 29, 2012

With only a few days before final nominations for spots to compete at the London Olympic Games and little less than a month until the start of them, African Olympians are trying to finalize their selections while preparing for their moment on the Olympic stage. Meanwhile, with two months before their own event, African Paralympians continue their own preparations this week including qualification competitions and tournaments that aid in team selection.

With a £25,000 grant on offer to any Olympic team willing to base themselves in the United Kingdom ahead of the Games, several national delegations took advantage of the opportunity to arrive early to train, acclimate and get the full Olympic experience. Gambia, Lesotho, and Egypt are a few countries that took advantage of the grant program. Egypt's athletes will spend two weeks at the Forum sports complex in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Gambia's Olympians will prepare for the Games at the University of York's Huntington Athletics Stadium.

Eight Algerian boxers are making the trip to London, with Abdelhafid Benchebla leading his country's Olympic delegation. La Tribune is optimistic about the opportunity for the country to capture its first Olympic boxing gold medal since the 2000 Sydney Games but worries that the country does not invest in its sports representatives until it is too late to improve their performance. Olympic judo medalist Ammar Benyekhlef will miss the London Games because of passport problems.

Algeria's Paralympians are also preparing for London. Earlier this week, the national goalball team participated in a Lithuanian hosted tournament featuring teams from Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil, Belgium, the United States of America, and England. The team coach Mohamed Bettahrat talked about the tournament, saying to the French language Algerian papaer La Tribune, "A new opportunity to work with the great nations offered to us to optimize our preparation for the upcoming Paralympic Games. This is a great tournament that brings together renowned this time, the selections that will be present in London, one of our group." tournament performance played a role in final team selection.

150 of Angola's Paralympic hopefuls were in Luanda this week competing in the national athletics championship hoping to earn a trip to the London Paralympics. For those qualified, they will then participate in a training camp starting on July 7 in Huíla before traveling to Portugal on July 14 ahead of the Games. They then leave for London on August 4.

Past Kenyan Paralympians Joseph Kibunja and Henry Wanyoike in Hong Kong a few years ago
Image: Dennislo.

Mandatory Bristol based training has been arranged by the National Olympic Committee of Kenya for nation's runners ahead of the Games but Kenya's runners have implied this will disrupt their preparations. Middle-distance runner Silas Kiplagat is quoted in The Star of Nairobi in response to this mandate, "I'm not for the idea because all along, we have been training in high altitude and switching to the low altitude in Bristol is likely to be counter productive." The Bristol idea is also opposed by Athletics Kenya, with the organization's chairman Isaiah Kiplaga saying "The athletes have put in hard work for the last couple of months for the Olympic Games and Bristol being a low altitude area, it will hurt our medal hopes." Kenya's runners are expected to leave for London in two waves, with the first group leaving early next week and the second wave, which includes long distance runners, leaving closer to the start of the Games.

This past Saturday, Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi qualified for the London Games at the country's national championships but his trip to the Games may be in jeopardy as two days ago, he was accused of stabbing a woman in Eldoret. According to Capital FM, Team Kenya has yet to issue a formal response to the allegations.

For two weeks, seven to nine Lesotho Olympians will prepare for the Games in north Wales, in Wrexham. Local Welshmen have been recruited to assist Lesotho competitors in their preparations for the Games, with local organizers looking for potential sparring partners if Lesotho qualifies a boxer. Two Lesotho marathon runners have already qualified. Swimmer Masempe Theko needs alternative arrangements because the Wrexham pool is only 25 meters, half the distance of the Olympic course pool. What strokes Theko will compete in at the Games is still to be determined.

At least two of Liberia's Olympians go into the Games having competed in their sports at universities in the United States. One attended University of Texas. Another, Jangy Addy, attended the University of Tennessee and will represent the country in the decathlon after having qualified for the event.

Malawi Olympians will be headed to London with their national Olympic committee under a cloud, with the Nyasa Times alleging corruption in the contractor bidding process for facilities and other monetary handouts. The Malawi delegation only manage to qualify its athletes through the Olympic solidarity movement, which allows athletes to compete by invitation after they failed to meet qualifying standards. Fourteen year old Joyce Tafatatha and twenty-three-year old Charlton Nyirenda will represent the country in swimming. Neither swimmer has swum in a 50 meter pool before, practicing in a 25 meter unheated pool at home in Malawi. Charlton goes into the game with a goal of breaking the Malawi record of 25.46 in the 50 meter freestyle swim. Rounding out the Malawi competitors are marathoners John Kayange and Mike Tebulo, and Ambwene Simukonda who will compete in the 400 meter track event. Arriving in London earlier this week, the team is training at University of Gloucestershire's Oxstalls campus.

According to Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC) President Sani Ndanusa, Nigeria's athletics competitors go into the Games with medal expectations. In the lead up to London, the country's Olympic hopefuls participated in most of the major track competitions. The national Olympic Committee has until next week to finalize the list of track and field competitors they will send to London, but they have already made the decision to only send competitors who have made Olympic A qualifying times and scores. The Committee wants to avoid the embarassment of Olympic B qualifying competitors doing poorly at the Games in front of a large population of Nigerians who live in the United Kingdom. One of the Nigerian Olympians has been able to prepare for the world stage by competing at University of Texas as an athlete. Nigeria's national football team does not have to worry about Olympic preparations as they failed to qualify for the Games in what is seen as a major blow to football in the country.

Rwanda T46 Paralympic competitor Theoneste Nsengimana qualified for the Paralympic Games in the 1500 meter event this past Saturday following a 4.06.05 finish at the Belfort Championship in France. In the process, he set a new national record for the distance in what was only his second international competition, with his first occurring last year at the All Africa Games held in Maputo, Mozambique. Other Rwandan competitors who will join him in London include the national sitting volleyball team, power lifter Théogène Hakizimana and runner Hermas Cliff Muvunyi.

Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World championships Athletics in Daegu
Image: Erik van Leeuwen.

South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius's Olympic 400 metre qualifying time efforts have yet to meet with success. At a qualifying race in Benin two days ago, he finished second in a qualifying heat with a time of 46.32 seconds, 1.2 seconds slower than than the required time. He missed the qualifying time again in yesterday's semi-final when he posted a time of 46.14 in another second place finish. He has one more opportunity to qualify for the Games before Sunday, when the qualification window closes. The double amputee's efforts to make the Olympic Games has made international news following a 2011 ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that deemed him able to compete against able bodied athletes.

South African triathlete Kate Roberts will be based in Davos until four days before the start of the Games. She will then travel to London, where she will familiarize herself with the Olympic course ahead of the start of her event. She asked The South African to ask South African fans to chant "Hou Bene Hou", "Go Kate Go" and "Go Vrystaat!" when she is on the Olympic course.

London bound Ugandan Janet Achola, who qualified for the London Olympics earlier this week in the 1500 meter event during the seminfinals at the African Senior Athletics Championships in Benin, made the event final to be run later today. Fellow countryman Viola Chemos is also competing. She needs to set an Olympic qualifying time in the final in order to book her own trip in the 5000 meter event.

With thirty days to go, the British ambassador assisted Zimbabwe Olympians and Paralympians with the biometric requirements for their passports and visas. When they arrive in London, their entry will be expedited. Rower Micheen Thornycroft's was one of the first of the Zimbawe Olympic athlete delegation to have her biometric data collected. Competitors will leave for London on July 15 with swimmer Kirsty Coventry, marathon runners Wirimayi Juwawo, Cutbert Nyasango and Sharon Tavengwa, triathlete Chris Felgate and rowers Jamie Fraser-Mackenzie and Thornycroft having already qualified but some spots for London still available at the African Senior Athletics Championships in Benin happening this week.

The 2012 London Olympic Games get underway on July 27 and will run until August 13. The Paralympics get underway on August 29 and will run until 9 September.


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