Africa’s sporting year

HR-LB-GettyImages-485176618From Kenya’s record-breaking performance in Beijing – finishing top of the medal table – to the Ivory Coast’s victory at football’s African Cup of Nations, it’s been a great year for African sport. Msafiri rounds up the best of 2015

Few sights sum up the sporting excellence of a continent better than African athletes proudly wearing gold medals, and this year’s World Championships in China (scene of the 2008 Olympics) was something special.

Kenya’s golden boy, David Rudisha – who also won at the London Olympics in 2012 in a record time – again led the way with a stunning 800m triumph. But he certainly wasn’t alone.

Asbel Kiprop (1500m), Nicholas Bett (400m hurdles), Ezekiel Kemboi (3000m steeplechase), Julius Yego (javelin), Vivian Cheruiyot (10,000m) and Hyvin Kiyeng (3000m steeplechase) also grabbed victories to leave Kenya top of the medals table for the first time in its history.

By the way, if you thought there may be a typing error in there it’s worth stating again that one of those gold medals came in the javelin. Kenya’s first ever gold in a field event. It’s an amazing story, too, because Yego – with no mentors to turn to – is self-taught. He simply watched the great javelin throwers on television and copied them. Pure talent did the rest.

It wasn’t only Kenya celebrating, however. Ethiopia finished fifth in the medal table with three golds – and in Almaz Ayana had one of the biggest stars of the championships following her stunning 1500m victory over legendary teammate Genzebe Dibaba, who had already won the 5000m and was hot favourite for the ‘double’.

Athletics fans – including those inside the Bird’s Nest Stadium – voted her the star of the championships and Ayana was presented with a Golden Shoe by Adidas at the World Athletics Gala in November.

South African sprinting sensation Wayde van Niekerk also enjoyed a breakthrough tournament, becoming the first African to win a 400m title in almost a century.

Now, for all those athletes, it’s on to the Olympics in Rio in 2016 – with a whole continent expecting more heroics.

African Cup of Nations 2015
Sometimes football throws up the kind of stories that not even Hollywood could dream up; and that’s exactly what happened at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, hosted by Equatorial Guinea.

The bare facts are that the Ivory Coast came through a nerve-wracking penalty shootout to beat Ghana in the final, clinching it 9-8 after the match ended 0-0. But talk to second-choice Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry and you’ll find a lot more to the story.

The veteran came into the side at the last minute when first choice Sylvain Gbohouo was injured, but he took his chance in style. First he saved a penalty from Ghana keeper Brimah Razak after a mammoth shootout – and then he scored against the same opponent to give Ivory Coast the title. It’s the kind of script you couldn’t make up.

“We call him Copa Barry now,” said Ivory Coast captain, Yaya Touré. “We have a lot to thank him for. It was an incredible day. We had waited so long to win it.”

DR Congo took third place, ahead of hosts Equatorial Guinea to complete a memorable tournament. Next stop Gabon in 2017.

Women’s World Cup
Cameroon flew the flag for Africa at the Women’s World Cup in Canada, reaching the last 16 in their first-ever finals. Highlights included a 6-0 thrashing of Ecuador (with a hat-trick from Gaëlle Enganamouit) and a 2-1 victory over Switzerland; but a narrow 1-0 defeat to China in the knockout stage ended their tournament.

There was disappointment, too, for Nigeria, who finished bottom of their group, and for the Ivory Coast, who failed to pick up a single point.

Multi Sport
The All Africa Games returned to its birthplace – Brazzaville, Congo, in 2015 – 50 years after the inaugural event. Egypt topped the medal table – just as it had done in 1965 – in what proved to be a celebration of sport.

Highlights for Kenya, who won seven golds, included winning the 4x400m relay in a new Games Record time. Kenya’s women’s volleyball team also took a stunning gold, beating Cameroon in the final, while Eunice Kadogo won 200m gold and broke the Kenya sprint record to take the 100m silver. She is the first woman ever to win a 100m medal in the Games for Kenya.

It has been a fascinating battle between Kenyan and Ethiopian superstars in the World Marathon Majors in 2015 so far. The highlight was probably the London Marathon, where Eliud Kipchoge stunned his Kenyan teammates to snatch victory.

The race had been billed as a ‘clash of champions’ between former world record holder and defending London Marathon champion Wilson Kipsang and current world record holder Dennis Kimetto. But Kipchoge shocked them both to finish first. He then went on to win the Berlin Marathon in September, an event in which Kenyan runners made up four of the first five places: Kipchoge (1st), Kiptanui (2nd), Emmanuel Mutai (4th) and Geoffrey Mutai (5th). Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa came third.

The women’s race in London was a thriller too – Kenya’s Mary Keitany was beaten to first spot by Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa.

Paralympic Sport
Nigeria’s para-lifting stars lit up the All Africa Games as they set five world records and sent their country to the top of the medal table.

Bose Omolayo (women’s 79kg), Loveline Obiji (women’s 86kg), Precious Orji (women’s over 86kg), Yakubu Adesokan (men’s 49kg) and Esther Oyema (women’s 55kg) all produced stunning performances to win gold.

Nigeria finished with 12 golds in all to lead the medal table, ahead of Egypt and Namibia. Kenya were ninth with one gold medal.

The next stop for Africa’s Paralympic stars is the Paralympic Games in Rio in September.

South Africa continued their campaign to be named the number one team in Test cricket as they surged to the top of the ICC rankings in 2015.

At the time of going to print they lead the table, comfortably ahead of Australia, England and Pakistan, having drawn a Test series with Bangladesh and beaten the West Indies 2-0.

The contribution of batsman AB de Villiers has been key. He is second, behind Australia’s Steven Smith, in the Test batsmen rankings and is in first place in the One Day Internationals batting list; while teammate Dale Steyn is ranked number one Test bowler in the world.

South Africa also reached the semi-finals of the World Cup this year, losing to New Zealand, with de Villiers averaging 96.40 runs for the tournament.

Rugby Union
South Africa were involved in one of the biggest shocks ever in the Rugby World Cup when they lost 32-34 to Japan in the group stage.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said the result in Brighton, England, was “unacceptable – I have to apologise to the nation”. But for many rugby fans across the world it was an incredible day as Japan turned down several chances to kick for goal in the final minutes (a three-pointer would have given them a draw) and managed to score a last-gasp try through Karne Hesketh to win the game instead. Sir Clive Woodward, who coached England to World Cup victory in 2003, described it as the greatest match in World Cup history. It may not have been the result the Springboks wanted but it will live long in the memory.

But it wasn’t all disaster for the Springboks as they managed to win their group by beating Scotland, Samoa and the USA, securing a place in the quarter-finals where they defeated Wales. They were overcome by eventual World Cup winners the All Blacks, in a gripping semi-final at Twickenham, but came back strongly to take the bronze medal against Argentina with a convincing 24-11 win.

Rugby Sevens
South Africa’s rugby sevens team guaranteed themselves a place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio by finishing second in the IRB Sevens Series. Seabelo Senatla was the Springbok hero, finishing top try scorer with 47 tries. Kenya finished 13th, recovering from a poor start to ensure they remain one of the core teams for the 2015-16 season. The highlight came at Twickenham when they beat Argentina to win the Bowl. At the time of going to print Kenya were preparing for their chance to qualify for Rio at in Johannesburg on 14-15 November.