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Africa at the Winter Olympics, quite a story

There is very little snow in Africa, but since 1984 at least one African country has participated in every edition of the Winter Olympics. What made sent athletes pioneers.

A record number of eight African countries participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. To beijing winter games of 2022, currently underway, Africa is represented by six athletes from five countries: Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco and Nigeria, five of them competing in downhill skiing and one in cross-country skiing.

These athletes are not expected to win medals in 2022. But, in general, the predominant motive for African attendance at the Winter Olympics is to compete, not to win, as shown my study from the history of the continent to the winter games.

In contrast, African countries performed relatively well at the Summer Olympics, especially in the middle distance and long distance running events. Since 1908, they have won more than 400 medals at these games, while at the Winter Olympics, athletes representing African countries have so far not won a medal.

Given the geography of the continent, this is not surprising. The mean annual temperature in Africa is 25,7 degrees Celsius. The difference between the average of the hottest month and that of the coldest month in Africa is just 1,9 degrees Celsius, the snow being a scarcity. This continent therefore does not have the climatic conditions required for winter sports played outdoors on snow or ice. Yet athletes representing African countries have contributed to the goals of universality and inclusion of the Olympic movement.

the majority of these Olympic athletes have close ties to the snowy countries of the northern hemisphere. Many were born to parents of European and African descent and left Africa when young to live in the northern hemisphere or to continue their education and training in parts of the world known for their snowy winters. In many cases, they returned to Africa to represent their respective countries at the games.

A total of 15 African countries have participated in the Winter Olympics in 58 years, from 1960 to 2022. Even if they did not win medals, some athletes have individually found success and otherwise played a pioneering role. .

The most competitive countries

Of the 15 countries that have represented Africa, only seven have participated in more than one edition of the Winter Olympics. South Africa was the first African country to take part. Given the political boycotts against theapartheid in South Africa, the country's first participation in the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley in the United States was also the last until the establishment of democracy. South Africa was excluded of the 1964 Games and suspended from Olympic movement in 1970. His return to the Winter Olympics was in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.

Morocco became the second African country to compete in the Winter Olympics when a team of five skiers alpine represented that country at the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France. Just over a decade earlier, in 1956, the country had obtained its independence of French colonial rule. Due to the Western Sahara conflict, Morocco was unable to participate in the Winter Olympics for the next 16 years. When that country returned to the Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984, a team of four represented it, once again in alpine skiing.

Senegal made their first of five appearances at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Senegal's participation in five different Winter Olympics comes down to three athletes in total, over a period of 26 years. Two of the three Senegalese athletes had close ties to countries in the northern hemisphere, having grown up in the Alps. This opportunity has facilitated their ability to train and prepare for games.

Although Algeria did not achieve convincing results at the 1992, 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, the country has at least passed the stage of "unique" participation, a feat that many other African countries do not have not yet realized.

Individual exploits

One of the characteristics of the participation of many African countries is that their teams had only one athlete. Kenya has been represented by only one athlete in the four Winter Games the country has participated in between 1998 and 2018. The cross-country skier Philip Boit represented Kenya in 1998, 2002 and 2006, while the alpine skier Sabrina Simader was the only Kenyan representative at the 2018 Games in South Korea.

Madagascar has participated in three winter games, in 2006, 2018 and 2022. The alpine skier Mialitiana Cleric, their only representative, will be the only African in competition in 2022.

Mialitiana Clerc of Madagascar, the only African woman at Beijing 2022.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as well as at PyeongChang in 2018, Ghana was represented by only one athlete. In 2010, it was the alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, born in Scotland to exiled Ghanaian parents. It was the first time that African competitors competed against other athletes from Africa, creating a race within a race. In 2018, Akwasi Frimpong was the second Ghanaian to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton. He was born and raised in Ghana but moved to the Netherlands when he was young.

Togo's first participation was at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where the country was represented by two female athletes: cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean and alpine skier Alessia Afi Dipol. Robel Teklemaria was the only athlete to represent Ethiopia in the country's two Games appearances so far: he took part in the Games in Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010 in cross-country skiing.

Considering geographic, political, social and economic factors, Egypt, Swaziland, Cameroon and Zimbabwe have each competed only once in the Winter Olympics, nevertheless they have contributed to consistent African representation at winter games.

A constant presence

A highlight for Africa came at the 2018 Winter Olympics, when a record eight countries lined up for the opening ceremony in South Korea. Athletes from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Morocco and Togo represented this continent. After the hype surrounding what many consider to be the "most African Winter Olympics" ever held in South Korea in 2018, only five African countries will be present at the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

In conclusion, since 1984, at least one African nation has taken part in the various successive Winter Olympic Games.

Africa's poor climate for winter sports, such as bobsledding, skiing and snowboarding, limits the level of participation from the African continent. However, globalization and relatively limited access to higher education institutions in Africa have allowed young African athletes to come into contact with many forms of winter sports, while studying or working in the foreign, mainly in the northern hemisphere.

Cobus Rademeyer, Lecturer, Sol Plaatje University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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