Do not let (the Tokyo Games) Closing Ceremony, with its two renditions of the Kenyan Anthem, in honour of marathon winners Peres Jepchirchir and Eliud Kipchoge, fool you.
Tokyo 2020 was not a successful Olympics for Africa.
The final tally of 37 medals, the same as Germany, might sound respectable, especially as 11 of these medals were gold.
But it was eight fewer than in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. Indeed, it was the first time since Athens 2004 that the continent’s medal haul had failed to reach 40.
What is more, there was significant event inflation in these Games: Tokyo 2020 saw 340 gold medals awarded, against just 307 in Rio.
Bearing this in mind, it ought to have been a realistic aspiration for Tokyo 2020 to have been the first Olympics at which athletes representing African nations won 50-plus medals.
If this assessment strikes you as harsh, look at things slightly differently.
In all, 1,080 medals of the three hues were awarded in Tokyo.
So athletes representing African nations captured 3.43 percent of all medals available. By my calculations, this is the lowest proportion since Barcelona 1992. The equivalent figure for Rio 2016 was 4.62 percent.
It is not difficult to come up with theories as to why the collective performance of African nations in Tokyo did not measure up to reasonable expectations.
It could be argued for example that the testosterone rules which have so impacted Caster Semenya have had a disproportionate effect on African runners.
It could certainly be argued that the proliferation of athletes of African origin or heritage in teams from Europe, the Middle East and North America has helped others to raise their game, inevitably depressing the medal count of the African nations themselves.
Then again, this African sports diaspora has been a “thing” for some years now.
One might also argue that, tough as the pandemic – and the one-year postponement of the Games which it entailed – has been for all athletes, the set of problems that it presented have been especially difficult to overcome for athletes based in relatively poor countries.
COVID-19 was one of the factors mentioned by William Blick, International Olympic Committee member from Uganda, when attempting to explain Africa’s “not so good” performance.
COVID-19 “totally disrupted events and training sessions”, Blick told me. Furthermore, “many Governments also cut funding”, he said. “Athletes were also unable to compete.”
But there is one other factor which it seems to me is constraining further African progress up the medals table.
The good news is that it is an issue which it ought to be possible to do something about.
Back to the statistics: Africa remains remarkably dependent on one single sport as the source of its Olympic medals. This sport is, of course, athletics.
At both Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, athletics accounted for 62.2 percent of medals won by athletes representing African countries.
This proportion has been coming down in recent times. At Sydney 2000, it was well over 80 percent.
But – and it is a pretty amazing “but” when you stop to think about it – the percentage of African medals accounted for by athletics at Tokyo remains higher than the equivalent percentage, 58.8 percent, at Munich 1972, almost half a century ago.
Of course, the modern Olympics are stuffed full of sports which are likely to be dominated by athletes from relatively wealthy countries, with highly developed sports and general infrastructure and support services, for the foreseeable future.
But this does not mean that African success need inevitably be confined to a single Olympic sport.
In 1972, of the 44 boxing medals that were up for grabs, seven ended up around the necks of athletes in African vests.
The equivalent figures for Tokyo? Out of 52 medals, just one was claimed by an African boxer – the Ghanaian featherweight Samuel Takyi.
Football is another sport in which the continent succeeded in lifting its Olympic performance level to the highest pitch, winning gold in both 1996 and 2000, but where it has since lost ground.
I noted with interest that the IOC’s Blick made much the same point about African countries, in effect, putting all their Olympic eggs into one basket.
“Overdependence on few events like athletics,” he listed as a second factor behind Africa’s performance at Tokyo.
He went on: “Many African countries participate in athletics, so they leave very little room to win medals elsewhere – unlike the many European nations that send athletes to almost all events of the Olympic programme.”
Some judicious, carefully-thought-through realignment of this “overdependence” on athletics hence appears to me a good starting-point for efforts to reverse Africa’s now declining Olympic medal count, without pumping more resources into a field which many regard as a luxury.
Then again, there are different ways of measuring success.Kenyans might with some justification regard getting their national anthem played more often than any other country’s at a Closing Ceremony watched by a global audience as an impressive enough pay-back. – Inside the Games