VENTURES AFRICA – The beautiful continent of Africa has produced quite a number of athletes who have made their marks not only on motherland, but have gone on to stun the world with their outstanding achievements. From Cameroon legend Roger Milla’s astounding displays at the World Cup in Italy in 1990; Nigerian international Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha’s mesmerizing displays over the years; Haile Gabrsellassie’s almost total domination of long distance races…the list is just endless. However, this post aims to take a look at ten of Africa’s best athletes in the last few years. Not necessarily in terms of their net worth – Ghanaian football star Asamoah Gyan would definitely feature in this list having being one of the highest paid African footballers last season – but looking at their performances and achievements and how well it they have affected the continent in a positive way. So, here’s my pick on Africa’s top ten athletes in no respective order:
If there ever was a case study for the statement, “if at the first you don’t succeed, dust yourself up and try again,’ then Botswana sprinter Montsho is one of the best you can get. Born some 29 years ago, the present 400 metres World Champion didn’t always have a smooth ride in her career. She admits she’s a slow starter and that is quite obvious judging from some of her early races. Despite representing her country in the last 2 Olympics in 2004 and 2008, Montsho had a miserable showing at the 1AAF World Athletics meet in 2009 finishing in fifth place. Just before that, she didn’t even make the cut for the 2005 and 2007 editions. But, the Botswana sprinter kept her head up and with determination, finally achieved a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games~~ the first person from her country to do so. A year later, she went a step further by winning the 400 metres at the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.In this age when many African athletes nationalise for other western nations, Monthsho’s love for her country is a joy to behold. She trains in Senegal but said recently: “I think I would run better if I ate food from Botswana.” Really patriotic, don’t you think?
South Africa has produced a long list of famous golfers and this Johannesburg born is no different. Charl has been around for quite sometime since making his professional debut at the age of 18. But his astonishing two strokes comeback win at Augusta last year remains one of the epic moments of golf history beating huge favourite and British sensation Rory Mcllroy to the title. Truth is, even if Schartzel fails to win any major event again in his career, he will forever be associated with that day at the Masters~~ one that he says was “an exciting day with all the roars.”
Samuel ‘The Nightmare” Peters gets my nod into this list despite not being able to defeat Wladimir Klitschko to win the world heavyweight crown in 2010. The Nigerian born boxer has put Africa on the map in recent times in a sport where many Africans have not really made much impact in the heavyweight category. However, an interesting fact about Peters is that boxing was never his preferred sport. He actually wanted to be a footballer like most Nigerian youths but stumbled into boxing when some boxers came to his secondary school to train. The Nightmare remains the only African to be crowned a boxing heavyweight champion when in 2007 he was named interim WBC Champion following Oleg Maskev’s withdrawal from a proposed bout. A year later, Peters beat Maskev to win the WBC crown. He may hold the record for being the only man to lose to both the Klitschko brothers, but the fact that the continent is even mentioned in the heavyweight category in the sport owes a lot to Peter’s doggedness.
Ask anyone a few years ago if it was ever possible for a disabled athlete to compete in the same sport with able bodied individuals and you will get a resounding NO! Well, come the start of the 2012 London Olympics and that will officially become history thanks to a certain South African: Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius is an amazing story of how to make the best in situations others may see as irreparable. The South African has a double amputation, yet he is still able to run with the aid of a carbon fibre prosthetics called Cheetah Flex~Foot. He holds the record in the 100m, 200m and 400m sport class T44. In 2007, Pistorius did compete in his first international tournament against able bodied athletes but that generated controversy as he was accused of having an undue advantage over athletes with natural ankles and limbs. World athletics body IAAF then amended their rules to prevent any athlete using any device although it claimed Pistorius wasn’t the target. However, the 26 year old appealed the decision and later got a favourable verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sports. He will contest in the 400m and 4 x 400 metres relay for his country in London. He also has several Paralympics medals including gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics events.
One of Africa’s most popular athletes, the Ivorian international is a household name for his exploits, first for Spanish side Barcelona and now for reigning English champions Manchester City. Born in 1983, the versatile player combines great physical strength with a superb technical quality and an astounding passing ability. He can play in almost every area on the pitch and leads by example. Though rejected by Arsenal in his early days, Toure went on to be an integral part of Barcelona’s incredible 2009 team that won an unprecedented treble of UEFA Champions Leauge, Spanish La~Liga and Copa del Rey titles. In 2010, he joined the Man City revolution, a move that earned Barcelona a whooping 24 million pounds. In his debut season, Yaya scored the winning goal that knocked out rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup semi finals as City ended their 34 year barren run without trophies with a win over Stoke City in the final; Yaya again scoring in the final. Last season, the Ivorian was instrumental as City won their first league title in 44 years with a last gasp winner on the final day of the season. He also was a key figure in Ivory Coast’s march to the finals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations where they lost on penalties to Zambia. He’s also played in his country’s two world cup participations earning a total of 67 caps and scoring 10 goals. Toure is one of Africa’s top earners, as he is reportedly on a 200, 000 pounds weekly wage at Manchester City.
One of the greatest players to ever play for the Egyptian national team, Hassan has broken so many records in the international scene. He is the world’s most capped male footballer with 184 caps. He has also played in 8 different African Cup of Nations since his debut for the Pharaohs in 1995. He scored a long range effort in the 1998 final against South Africa to help Egypt win their 4th title. In 2006, he was named Egyptian captain and was voted Best Player as well as highest goal scorer in the tournament. The Pharaohs went on to win the next two editions with Ahmed still captain the last time in 2010 at the age of 34.
What more is there to say about this Ethiopian legend that hasn’t been said before? He is the 5000m and 10000m World Champion as well as the defending Olympic Champion in both events. He has so many medals to his credit and many feel he may be just about the greatest distance runner ever. Well, that’s if you count his compatriot Haile Gabrsellasie out of the equation. Bekele will be hoping to go one step ahead of Gabrsellasie and that is to win a third consecutive gold medal in the 10000m event. Will he achieve that? Well, judging from his form in 2012, you can as well place a bet on the Ethiopian achieving that legendary status.
One of the best sports man ever from the African continent, the Cameroonian international has won just about everything there is to be won in world club football. Despite being rejected by Spanish giants Real Madrid early on in his career, Eto’o ensured that Los Merengues regretted every bit of that decision when he signed for their rivals Barcelona. At Barca, Eto’o was an influential part of a revolution in Spain first with Ronaldinho and Deco; and later with Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Lionel Messi. However, the Cameroonian moved to Inter Milan in 2009 where he won a treble of Seria A, Copa Italia and UEFA Champions League after doing same with Barca a year earlier. Last year, Eto’o stunned the world when he moved to rich spending Russian side Anzhi Machakala for a reported 20 million Euros; a huge investment if you consider his age at the time. He earns a whooping 20 million euros a year after tax which makes him the highest paid sports person. He is also the highest earning athlete behind Tiger Woods. In the international scene, Eto’o made his debut for Cameroon a day before he turned 16. He has since played in 3 World Cups and 7 African Cup of Nations winning the tournament in 2000 and 2002. He was also part of the team that won the gold medal in football at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Drogba makes it just ahead of Eto’o on my list for one reason: his commitment and drive in ensuring peace returns to his native Ivory Coast as he was part of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that ensured the bloody ten year war was stopped in the West African country. As if this isn’t enough, the former Chelsea star donated all the 3 million pounds he got from an advert deal to build a hospital in his country. What more can you ask of from a true African ambassador? On the field of play proper, Drogba is iconic and revered wherever he plays, just ask Chelsea or Marseille. In just one season at Marseille, his goals ensured the French club reached the finals of the 2004 UEFA Cup where they lost to Valencia. That summer, Drogba moved to Chelsea. 8 years after, Drogba ensured the London club won 3 Premier League crowns, 4 FA Cup titles and his last kick for the club saw Chelsea crowned European Champions last May. Presently, the Ivorian has joined the African exodus to China with the likes of Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Seydou Keita and Frederic Kanoute. Although Drogba insists his move to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua isn’t about money, he is reportedly going to earn about 200, 000 pounds weekly in Asia. Make of that what you wish.
This Ethiopian legend makes it into my list as Africa’s top athlete for so many reasons. He is arguably the continent’s biggest sports personality. He has dominated long distance races for the last decade smashing records in the process. Gebreselassie has won just about everything that needs to be won in long distance races including back to back Olympic gold medals in the 10000m event. Sadly, he will not be at the 2012 London Olympics as age has finally caught up with after years of putting the continent in the news for all the right seasons. So much is his fame that he even starred in a Hollywood movie about his rise to fame culminating in his Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. IAAF President Lamine Diack sums up Haile when he said back in 2010 that the Ethiopian is a “sporting hero, legend, genius. It’s virtually impossible to overstate the stature of Haile Gebreselassie as an athletics superstar… (he) is widely acknowledged as one of the all~time greats of athletics but for millions around the world he is more than a sporting icon.”
Agree with my list? Is there someone you think should have made the cut? Join the conversation on twitter @Venturesafrica @Foskolo.