Most Successful African Countries at the Summer Olympics

Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya

Over the years, many African countries have had their flags flown during the opening ceremony before their athletes represented the nation during various Olympic events. Butthis is a look at the medals table and a countdown of the five most successful African countries in the history of the games.

Nigeria first competed in the Olympics at the 1952 summer Games in Helsinki, Finland, but did not win a medal until 1964 in Tokyo. Nigeria later made history at the Atlanta games in 1996 by becoming the first African country to win Olympic gold in soccer. Atlanta was Nigeria’s best showing at the Olympics thus far with a total of 2 Gold, 1 Silver, and 3 Bronze medals. In 2008, the International Olympics Committee indicted the American 4 x 400 relay team for using performance-enhancing drugs, stripped them of their medals, and awarded their gold to the Nigerian relay team, which had initially won silver. Nigeria has won a total of 23 Olympic medals: 3 Gold, 8 Silver, and 12 Bronze.

Egypt was among the first African countries to compete at the Olympic Games, sending just one athlete to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Egypt’s first Olympic success came some 16 years later in 1928, at the Olympic games in Amsterdam. Egypt has competed in almost all Olympic events since 1912 except in 1956, 1976, and 1980, when it boycotted the games. Unlike most African countries, Egyptian athletes do not perform very well in track and field events; the majority of Egypt’s medals have come from weight lifting and wrestling. In all, Egypt has won 26 Olympic medals consisting of 7 Gold, 9 Silver, and 10 Bronze.

The Ethiopian Olympic Committee was founded in 1948, but Ethiopia’s first participation at the games did not come until 1956. After waiting until 1960 to win their first Olympic medal, Ethiopia has gone on to compete in every Summer Olympics held since then except the 1976, 1984, and 1988 games. Like Kenya, Ethiopia is renowned for its long-distance runners. For many spectators, the name Haile Gebrselassie has come to be synonymous with long-distance running. Ethiopia has 45 Olympic medals in all: 21 Gold, 7 Silver, and 17 Bronze.

South Africa
South Africa sent athletes to the 1904 Olympic Games and partook in every tournament thereafter until it was suspended in 1960 for its apartheid policy. It was welcomed back at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics once its government softened its hard-line approach and promised an end to apartheid. The 1920 games in Antwerp was South Africa’s most successful outing with a return of 10 medals: 3 Gold, 4 Silver, and 3 Bronze. The bulk of South Africa’s medal haul has come from track and field, swimming, and boxing. Caster Semanya won South Africa’s last Olympic medal at the London games in 2012. Over the years, South African athletes have won 23 Gold, 26 Silver and 27 Bronze – a total of 76 Olympic medals.

Kenya initially participated at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with not a single medal won. It has however gone on to establish itself as an African powerhouse every four years. Kenya’s long-distance runners are renowned the world over for their record-breaking exploits. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 was arguably Kenya’s most successful showing, winning 6 Gold, 4 Silver, and 4 Bronze medals. Kenya has amassed a total of 86 Olympic medals with 56 of them coming from long-distance running and the rest coming from boxing.




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