from Africa in Transition

Africa at the Olympics

August 23, 2016

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.

Now that the Olympics are over, it is time to tally up the medal totals. Sub-Saharan Africa made its mark on the competition. The breakdown is as follows:


  • 6 Gold medals (Track and Field).
  • 6 Silver medals (Track and Field).
  • 1 Bronze medal (Track and Field).

South Africa

  • 2 Gold medal (2 – Track and Field – Wayde van Niekerk broke the world record for the Men’s 400 meter race).
  • 6 Silver medals (3 – Swimming; 2 – Track and Field; 1 – Rowing).
  • 2 Bronze medal (1 – Rugby 7’s; 1 – Triathlon)


  • 1 Gold medal (Track and Field – Almaz Ayana broke the world record for the Women’s 10,000 meter race).
  • 2 Silver medal (Track and Field).
  • 5 Bronze medals (Track and Field).

Côte d’Ivoire

  • 1 Gold medal (Taekwondo)
  • 1 Bronze medal (Taekwondo)


  • 1 Silver medal (Track and Field)


  • 1 Silver medal (Taekwondo)


  • 1 Bronze medal (Soccer)

There were stories to follow in Rio de Janeiro. Chad le Close, the South African swimmer who defeated Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly in the 2012 Olympics, unsuccessfully defended his title against the most winning Olympian of all-time. And, the YouTube-taught Javelin thrower, Julius Yego, went on to earn a Silver medal after winning at the 2015 World Athletics Championships.

Then there is the story of Wayde van Niekerk. Years before, his mother had been a promising athlete. However, under the Apartheid regime, she could not compete in the Olympics because she was ‘coloured’ and the South Africa team was closed to non-whites.  During these Olympics, both van Niekerk and his cousin, Cheslin Kolbe, won medals for their country, since 1994 a ‘non-racial’ democracy. (Kolbe won a bronze medal as in the the rugby 7’s, rugby played with a seven person team.)