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From Marathons to MMA: African Athletes Dominate the Global Sports Arena

Jan 25, 2024 10:00AM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe

Israel Adesanya. Photo by Instagram | @adesanya.david via @stylebender

African athletes have constantly remained great competitors in the global sports arena especially in the field of Athletics. Whether it be the Olympic event, commonwealth games, or the World Championships in Athletics, African athletes have not only made a good representation of themselves but have also gathered a medal haul that is a representation of their success.

While African athletes have had a good showing in the track and field events such as the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay in the Olympics, one aspect they have completely dominated is the long-distance Marathon. Ethiopia and Kenya currently hold 1st and 2nd place in the medals table for countries who participated in the Olympic events from 1896 – 2020. 

In addition to the medals won by African Athletes in Marathon events, they are also among the top best in world record listings for the Marathon event section. According to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) officially ratified world record listings in the event for men, Kelvin Kiptum (Kenya) ranks at number one holding the record of 2hrs 35 seconds which he achieved on October 8, 2023 at the Chicago Marathon.

Kelvin Kiptum at the Chicago Marathon. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Other Africans that make up the top ten listings for men are Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya, 2hrs,1min, 9secs), Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 1min, 41secs), Sisay Lemma (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 1min, 48secs), Birhanu Legese (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 2mins, 48secs), Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 2mins, 55secs), Dennis Kimetto (Kenya, 2hrs, 2mins, 57secs), Evans Chebet (Kenya, 2hrs, 3mins), Gabriel Gerald Geay (Tanzania, 2hrs, 3mins), Lawrence Cherono (Kenya, 2hrs, 3mins, 4secs). 

Likewise, in the IAAF record listings for women, African athletes rank among the top ten. The current top record holder for women is Tigst Assefa from Ethiopia with a record of 2hrs, 11mins, and 53seconds which she achieved on September 24, 2023 at the Berlin Marathon. 

Tigst Assefa. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Making up the list are the likes of Brigid Kosgei (Kenya, 2hrs, 14mins, 4secs), Ruth Chepngetich (Kenya, 2hrs, 14mins, 18secs), Amane Beriso Shankule (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 14mins, 58secs), Worknesh Degefa (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 15mins, 51secs), Tigist Ketema (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 16mins, 7secs), Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia, 2hrs, 16mins, 22secs), Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya, 2hrs, 16mins, 28secs).

It is not uncommon to overhear people attribute the success of African athletes in Marathon to the high altitude peculiarities of their countries, but such notion falls flat when you consider the amount of training and sacrifices these athletes put in on daily basis to prepare for these events.

This level of commitment is further exemplified in the performances of African athletes in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) sport. 

MMA is a full combat sport that combines different skills from several martial arts discipline. 

Some of the brightest stars in the sport are the likes of Israel Adesanya (Nigeria) who is currently ranked second on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight Rankings and has held the UFC middleweight title.

Israel Adesanya. Source:Instagram | @stylebender

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Others are Abdul Razak Alhassan (Ghana), Francis Ngannou (Cameroun), Kamaru Usman (Nigeria), Abu Azaitar (Morocco), Dalcha Lungiambula (South Africa), Don Madge (South Africa), Igeu Kabesa (South Africa), Sodiq Olamide Yusuff (Nigeria), Kennedy Nzechukwu (Nigeria). The rising popularity of the sports in Africa has been due to the successful performances of the fighters of African origin.

With a solid background in boxing and traditional wrestling, many African athletes are breaking grounds and finding success in MMA sports. 

With the recognition of The Nigerian Mixed Martial Arts Federation (NMMAF) by the Federal Ministry of Sport and Youth Development, and recognition of the sports in other African countries like Cameroon, Zambia, Algeria, Tunisia, Angola, Ghana, Morocco, and Egypt, the sport is set to produce several athletes who would dominate the world for years to come.

Whether it be track and field, marathon and the MMA, African Athletes have continued to stake their claim on the global stage as world class competitors achieving success through their resilience, dedication and commitment to their craft.  

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 Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures. [email protected]

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