Togo's hero has only been there once... as a toddler
Wednesday 13 August 2008
Togo's first medallist at an Olympics, the kayaker Benjamin Boukpeti, said it was finally time for him to visit the country he competes for.
He was born in France to a French mother while his father and two sisters are from Togo. "Unfortunately, I've only ever been once to Togo, when I was very little, because my mother wanted to present me to my grandmother," Boukpeti said after earning a bronze in the kayak slalom yesterday behind the winner Alexander Grimm, of Germany, and runner-up, France's Fabien Lefevre. "But now I think I have a very good reason to go."
Boukpeti, ranked 56th in the world, stunned the field and bewildered spectators when he took the lead in the first of two final runs, then held on for bronze in his second run. He slammed his paddle in the frothy water to celebrate his country's first medal in the Olympics. The crowd wildly cheered on Boukpeti as he neared the end of the white-water course. He slapped hands with fans from his kayak and his paddle snapped in half, although he hardly seemed to care.
"I really don't know yet what this quite represents," he said. Boukpeti kissed his fists before he thrust them into the air on the medal stand and hopped up and down several times before the medal was placed around his neck, his parents watching nearby. "I tried to give people some entertainment," he said. "I tried to make them vibrate a little."
Boukpeti was the last competitor to negotiate his one-man kayak through the strategically placed gates, and the crowd was behind him from the start. His ride was clean and his combined time was 173.45 seconds.
He hugged and kissed his mother and father after he crossed the finish line and said: "They showed me it was possible."
Boukpeti, 27, sought to compete for the west African nation (population 5.7million) when it became clear that he was too old to have a real shot of making the French team.
He has very few memories of his last visit to Togo. He remembers thinking every black man he saw was his father, who had not been able to make the trip, because at home in France his father stood out.
"I also remember that my brother didn't want to leave the ball that he was playing with at my cousins... but in the end, he had to leave it," added Boukpeti, who lives in Toulouse.
On the map Togo's other sporting greats
Famous for: Playing for Arsenal. Twice nominated as African Footballer of the Year, last season he scored 30 times in 48 appearances for the Gunners.
Famous for: Togo's No 1 tennis player. Represented his country in Beijing but was knocked out in the first round by South Africa's Kevin Anderson on Monday. Loglo's highest world ranking so far was 316 last October.
Famous for: Kangni was Togo's first Olympian, competing in the 800m in Munich in 1972. He ran a personal best and broke the national record by clocking up 1min 52.09sec in his heat – sadly, this was only good enough for seventh place.
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