25 July 2007
The All Africa Games came to its conclusion in Algiers on Monday night, with Egypt narrowly edging out Algeria on the medals table for first place, with South Africa securing third spot behind the two North African nations.
The Egyptians, a traditional power at the All Africa Games, won 74 gold medals and 199 medals overall to squeeze in ahead of the Algerians, who lifted their performance considerably over their showing in Abuja four years ago when they finished fourth in the standings.
The hosts won more medals than the Egyptians, claiming 205, but they fell four short of their rivals in the gold medal stakes. It was Algeria’s best ever showing at the All Africa Games.
61 gold medals
South Africa ended third with 61 golds and 180 medals in total, with Nigeria, the 2003 hosts, who topped the medal table in Abuja, taking fourth place with 50 gold medals and 159 medals in all. Tunisia finished fifth with 48 golds.
In total, 27 sporting disciplines were contested, with about 8 000 athletes from 52 countries participating.
Unfortunately, as is all too often the case in Africa, there was controversy surrounding what some countries called the manipulation of the medal table by Algeria. Often the official medal standings were unavailable at the end of each day, leaving countries in the dark as to how well their teams had performed.
Despite the complaints, Olympic President Jacques Rogge declared himself happy with the Games, telling the athletes, “Thank you, you are wonderful!”
Dominant in the swimming pool
South Africa dominated in the swimming pool, winning 53 medals, with the next best return being Algeria’s 16 and Zimbabwe’s 15. SA men won 12 golds, seven silvers, and seven bronzes, while the women claimed 13 gold medals, nine silvers, and five bronzes.
The results reflected South Africa’s recent emergence as a country to be reckoned with in international swimming competitions. They were also especially encouraging given that world swimming stars such as Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling did not take part.
Paraplegic superstar Natalie du Toit excelled in the relays and won individual gold in the 1 500 metres freestyle.
South Africa also performed well in athletics, winning the most medals with 24, although Algeria won the most golds, nine to SA’s seven.
1-2-3 in men’s 400 hurdles
The Rainbow Nation’s men achieved the best results of any country, with the highlight provided by the 400 metre hurdlers. They finished 1-2-3, with LJ van Zyl taking gold in 48.74 seconds, while Pieter de Villiers was awarded silver ahead of Alwyn Myburgh, even though both athletes were time in 48.91 seconds.
In wheelchair athletics, SA finished second on the table, picking up 14 medals, of which eight were for wins. There was also a gold medal for the wheelchair basketball team.
South African sailors led the way in a competition that featured women’s and mixed racing. Of the nine golds on offer, SA picked up six.
In another water-based sport, rowing, South Africa finished just one gold behind Algeria, although the team’s seven medals was one better than the hosts.
After a tight fight against Nigeria, SA’s badminton team finished top of the table, winning two golds, three silvers, and three bronzes.
South Africa was also number one in cycling, with three gold medals out of the six on offer, and six medals in all.
The wrestling team secured three gold medals and five bronzes to total eight medals in all.
Gymnasts claimed 12 medals, but just two golds among them. It was a similar story in chess as South Africa picked up 10 medals, but only one of them was gold.
Olympic hockey qualifiers
Due to a lack of facilities in Algeria for hockey, an Olympic qualifying tournament was held in Nairobi at the same time as the All Africa Games. Only the winners would qualify for Beijing 2008.
South Africa’s women had no problems whatsoever in securing their spot, waltzing through the tournament and smashing Kenya 5-0 in the final.
Matters were tougher for the men who faced their traditional rivals Egypt for the prized Olympic place as African champions.
The Egyptians took the lead in the 34th minute through Sameh Metwaly, but just five minutes later Emile Smith leveled for South Africa. Then, with only six minutes remaining, Geoff Abbot scored the winner for SA.
Taking place every four years, in the year before the Olympic Games, the next All Africa Games, the tenth edition, will be hosted by Lusaka in Zambia in 2011.