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4 LESSER-KNOWN OLYMPIC SPORTS FEATURING AFRICAN ATHLETES IN 2024

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The Olympic Games stand out as the world’s largest and most intricate sporting event and they go beyond just honoring athleticism; they embody a celebration of innovation, creativity, humanity, fair play, and sporting excellence. Widely regarded as one of the premier global sporting events, the Olympics predate contemporary competitions like the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

This grand sporting celebration is unparalleled in terms of the variety of sports featured, the multitude of athletes participating, and the diverse international gathering in the spirit of friendly competition. Held every four years, the Olympics encompasses both a summer and a winter edition. Athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Olympic Refugee Team engage in a broad spectrum of sporting disciplines, captivating a global audience.

 The modern Olympic Games originated in Athens, Greece, in 1896, with the first winter edition taking place in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Since 1994, the Olympics have followed a two-year cycle, alternating between summer and winter editions within each four-year Olympiad.

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 The African continent has produced notable Olympic champions across various events, from iconic marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia to South African swimmer Chad Le Clos. While athletics and swimming have seen prominent African representation, lesser-known sports may feature African competitors in the upcoming Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. The Culture Custodian has identified four such sports and the African athletes representing them.

Fencing

Fencing is a competitive sport where two athletes engage in swordplay, aiming to strike each other to score points while also defending against attacks. The three distinct disciplines in modern fencing are the foil, épée, and saber. Each discipline employs a unique blade, sharing its name, and is governed by specific rules. Sword fights date back to 1190 BC, in Ancient Egypt, continuing through the 18th century in various forms of bouts and duels.

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Originally rooted in military training, fencing began transforming into a sport during the 14th or 15th century in Germany and Italy. Fencing appeared at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

In terms of African representation in fencing, Sello Maduma from South Africa participated in the 2008 and London 2012 Olympics, competing in two épée events. Although he didn’t advance past the preliminary rounds, his presence marked South Africa and Africa’s involvement. At the Paris 2024 Olympics, Kenya may see representation in fencing through Alexandra Ndolo, the German-born left-handed épée fencer, Ndolo switched her allegiance to Kenya due to her father’s Kenyan heritage.  After initially representing Germany at the 2013 Summer Universiade, she transitioned to competing for Kenya and achieved notable success, winning a silver medal in the women’s épée event at the 2022 World Fencing Championships in Cairo, Egypt. As of now, she remains in contention for qualification to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Canoeing

Canoe sprint involves athletes competing on a flatwater course, covering distances ranging from 200 to 1000 meters. The sport features two types of boats: canoes, where athletes kneel and use a single-blade paddle and kayaks, where athletes are seated and use a double-bladed paddle.

While most races are individual, the Olympic Games accommodate two-person canoe and four-person kayak classes. John MacGregor, a British explorer, and travel writer played a pivotal role in transforming traditional hunting and fishing boats into sporting vessels. In 1866, he founded the Royal Canoe Club.

Originally named flatwater canoe, canoe sprint is the fundamental form of the sport, with athletes striving to reach the finish line first. Nigeria boasts a representative in this category—Ayomide Emmanuel Bello. Notably, Bello made history as Nigeria’s first female Olympic flatwater canoeist. At the 2019 African Games, she secured four gold medals in the C-1 200m, C-1 500m, C-2 200m, and C-2 500m events. Her outstanding performance not only propelled Nigeria to a second-place finish in the canoeing medal table but also earned her a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where she became Nigeria’s first-ever female Olympic canoeist. Presently, Bello is actively vying for the opportunity to represent Nigeria at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Archery

Archery, one of the oldest continuously practiced sports, is deeply intertwined with the evolution of human civilization. Dating back thousands of years, this sport involves the use of bows and arrows, marking a cultural milestone comparable to the discoveries of fire and the invention of the wheel. The Egyptian pharaohs of the 18th dynasty (1567-1320 BC) favored archery as their sport of choice. Centuries later, the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC) in China witnessed some of the earliest recorded archery tournaments, attended by the Chinese nobility.

Archery made its debut in the Olympic Games in 1900, reappearing in 1904, 1908, and 1920, and then making a return after a 52-year absence, starting from 1972 up to the present.

Looking ahead to the representation of Africa in archery at the Paris Olympics, Chad has secured two quota places. This achievement comes after their recurve mixed team, comprising Martine Abaifouta Hallas Maria and Israel Madaye, clinched the African Championship title by defeating Cote d’Ivoire in the gold medal match at the 2023 African Archery Championships in Nabeul. The archers from Chad bound for Paris follow in the footsteps of Marlyse Hourtou, who left an impact in Chad’s archery debut at Tokyo 2020 after receiving a universality ticket.

Curling

Curling, a team sport played on a rectangular sheet of ice, involves two teams, comprising either two or four players. The moniker “the roaring game” comes from the resonant sound produced by the granite stones as they glide across the icy surface. While curling is predominantly associated with colder climates, Africa is making its mark in this sport, particularly at the Gangwan 2024 Youth Olympics.

Presently competing in the Republic of Korea, the Nigerian curling team, affectionately known as the Broomzillas, is breaking new ground. They are the first curling team from Africa to participate in the Youth Olympic Games. The team, consisting of Danmola Fatiu, Oluwanimifise Wale-Adeogun, Nkoyo Oku, and Charles Goodnews, faced challenges in securing their presence at the tournament. Due to a lack of support from Nigeria’s Ministry of Sports, they had to resort to crowdfunding to fund their participation. Although not at the Paris Olympics, the Broomzillas are pioneering African representation in the exciting world of curling on the international stage.

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