Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s success in sports at the world stage, in terms of medals and cups, has been modest. But the country’s contribution to sportsmanship is well documented.
One major moment that illustrated this better was the1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics Games. These were the second Summer Olympics for Tanzania to participate as an independent country after the Tokyo Summer Olympics of 1964.
Tanzania fielded four athletes: three of them John Stephen Akhwari, Norman Chihota and Claver Kamanya were runners, while Titus Simba was a boxer. Akhwari participated in the marathon. Chihota competed in 100 and 200 metres while Kamanya competed in 400 metres. Tanzania did not win a single medal in the event.
But the country’s participation in the world sport event has remained glued in the minds of sport historians to this day.
While running in the 42 kilometre marathon, Akhwari cramped up and injured his knee, at the 19 kilometre point. In the accident Akhwari also had a dislocated joint and shoulder.
As it turned out, after receiving first aid treatment Akhwari continued to run. And slightly over an hour after the winner of the race had touched the finishing line Akhwari appeared in the near empty stadium.
He slowly limped to the finish line in a golden moment that was captured by global TV cameras and stored in the vaults of history of sportsmanship for posterity. He clocked 3.25.27. Ethiopian runner Mamo Wolde who won the marathon had clocked 2.20.26. The few spectators and the television crews who had remained behind were surprised to see that a marathoner was still on the race.
And as Akhwari limped towards the finishing line the small crowd cheered him on. As if prepared for the moment all his life this is what Akhwari told reporters when asked why he had continued to run despite his injuries: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race…” These words have been among the most prized rallying cries of the Olympics.
To their credit China recognized and celebrated Akhwari for his contribution in sportsmanship in global athletics by inviting him to the Beijing Olympics and by featuring him in a special documentary in the run up to the big sporting event. Throughout Tanzania’s 60 years history there have been high moments in the world of sports as well as notable individuals who have successfully represented the country in them.
Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964
This event is important because it was the first Summer Olympics that Tanzania participated as an independent country. The event was held soon after the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Tanzania was still known as the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. But the country participated under the name of Tanganyika. The country was represented by four athletes namely Omari Abdallah, Mohamed Hassan Chabbanga, Pascal Mfyomi and Daniel Thomas. Despite the fact that the country won no medal, the participation boosted the image of the new nation in the world of sports.
Theresia Dismas at the All Africa Games in 1965
Theresia was the first Tanzanian athlete to win a medal since the country gained independence in 1961. Theresia won a silver medal in the All Africa Games held in Congo Brazzaville in 1965 through javelin. Tanzania was placed 19th out of 23 nations that participated in the tournament. Other countries that were placed in the same position as Tanzania were Zaire (now DRC), Ethiopia, Niger and Zambia. United Arab Republic (Egypt) emerged top with 30 medals.
Habibu Kinyogoli, the early boxer
As an amateur boxer Kinyogoli was selected in the African combine team after doing well in All Africa Games in Nigeria in 1973. He was a bantamweight boxer. Kinyogoli dominated the national boxing team for 10 years. He is now a professional boxing coach. In 1974, Kinyogoli was eliminated in quarter finals against Ugandan boxer Ali Rojo in the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Filbert Bayi, a giant in global athletics
Bayi is one of the giants in the history of global athletics. He set world records for 1500 metres in 1974 and for a mile in 1975. He is still the 1500 metres Commonwealth Games record holder.
He had already won the 1500 metre race at the 1973 All Africa Games, with Kipchoge Keino gaining silver. In 1975 Bayi performed wonders by breaking Ryun’s eight-year-old mile record by clocking 3:51 in Kingston. But the record was short-lived as Walker became history’s first sub-3:50 miler on August 12 in the same year, running 3:49.4 at Gothenburg.
It was hoped that the Bayi-Walker clash would continue but, because Tanzania boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, it never materialized. However, since Bayi was suffering from a bout of malaria shortly before the Olympics, he may not have been able to challenge Walker even had there been no boycott.
Bayi successfully defended his title at the 1978 All Africa Games.
Bayi won a silver medal in the 3000 metre steeplechase at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. He ran 8:12.5 behind Bronisław Malinowski. He has now retired and is athletics administrator.
Suleiman Nyambui, the king of silver
Nyambui is a celebrated runner. He won a silver medal at the 1978 All Africa Games. He also made Tanzania proud in the 5000 metre’s race in the Moscow Summer Olympics Games in 1980 by scooping the silver medal. Nyambui who is now an athletics coach and administrator has won multiple indoor national records in Tanzania. After running shorter-distance races, Nyambui also competed in several marathons, winning the Berlin Marathon on two occasions and the Stockholm marathon.
African Nations Cup 1980
Tanzania qualified for the first time in the African Cup of Nations in 1980. The 12th edition CAN was hosted by Nigeria. It took 39 years for the country to qualify again in continent’s premier football event. Tanzania qualified again for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament (abbreviated as Afcon or CAN) in 2019, which was hosted by Egypt. Each player in the team was given a plot of land by the President John Pombe Magufuli as a token of appreciation for participating in the big event.
Mwanjala was the first women to represent Tanzania in the Moscow Summer Olympics Games in 1980 for long distance races. She competed in the women’s 800 metres.
Juma Ikangaa at New York and Boston marathons
Ikangaa made international headlines after winning the New York Marathon in 1989 after clocking 2.08.01. He also made the country proud after finishing second in Boston Marathon three years consecutively from 1988 to 1990.
Previously Ikangaa had won gold medals in Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in 1987, Beijing Marathon (1987), Melbourne Marathon (1984), and African Athletics Championship (1982). He finished second in Commonwealth Games held at Brisbane, Australia in 1982.
Simba Sports Club’s success in CAF competitions
Simba made history when they reached the finals in the CAF competitions of 1993. They lost to Stella Club of Côte d’Ivoire. It is the highest continental achievement by a Tanzanian team to date. Another milestone for the club was in 2003 when Simba beat the then-reigning champions Zamalek of Egypt in the CAF Champions League second round of qualifiers to qualify to the group stages. They had also beaten Santos of South Africa in the first round.
Rashid Matumla, a pioneer in professional boxing
Known as Snake Boy and later Snake Man, Rashid Matumla promoted the country abroad after winning the African Boxing Union (ABU) in 1997 through Technical knockout (TKO) against Cameroonian, Patrice Mbehbenle. He again won the World Boxing Union (WBU) title against boxers namely, Lorant Szabo, Troy Mitchell, Orhan Ajvazoski and Andras Galfi. He also won WBU against Paolo Pizzamiglio. Matumla, now retired, also represented Tanzania in three consecutive Summer Olympics, starting in Seoul in 1988. He also competed in two Commonwealth Games; 1994 and 1998.
Yanga pioneers in the new CAF champions league competitions
Young Africans (Yanga) were the first team in Tanzania to qualify for the new African Champions League format in 1998. The Club qualified for the Groups Stage after eliminating Ethiopian Coffee 8-3 in goal aggregates. The team drew 2-2 in away match and later won 6-1 at the Uhuru Stadium. In 2020 Yanga signed a consultancy deal with La Liga. Members of the club have agreed to change their club’s ruling structure to allow private investments from other companies.
Mwera is another Tanzania runner who promoted Tanzania internationally. He won gold medal in Abuja’s 2003 All Africa Games in 800 metres after clocking 1.46.13. He was also placed 6th in 1500 metre chase with 3.45.98 and was selected in the African team that featured in the 2003’s Afro-Asian Games in India and won Bronze Medal.
Zakia Mrisho is among female runners who represented Tanzania well in international track and field events. She competed in the 3000 and 5000 metres races. In 2005 she finished third in World Athletics Championship held in Monte Carlos, Monaco in France.
She also finished 5th in World Championship held in Helsinki, Finland in the same year. In 2008 she finished fourth at the World Athletics finals held in Stuttgart, Germany. She also won the first position in Diamond League in 2004, 2005 and 2009.
Fabiano Joseph Naasi
Naasi made headlines after winning World Half marathon held in Edmonton, Canada in 2005. He clocked 1.01.08. In the previous year Naasi had finished second in the same competition held in New Delhi, India after clocking 1.02.31. He also finished second in World’s Half Marathon championships held in Vilamoura, Portugal. He clocked 1.00.52. When he was a teenager he managed to finish second in World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy in the 10000 metre race as well as 6th in the 5000 metre race respectively.
Ramadhani extends TZ’s good performance in Commonwealth Games
Samson Ramadhani Nyonyi won the gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games that took place in Melbourne Australia with 2:11:29.
In 2003 he participated in three marathons. He won the Beppu Oita Marathon; was 5th at the London Marathon (time 2:08:01, still his personal best) and was 15th at the World Championships in Paris.
He finished 40th at the 2004 Olympic Games, and 5th at the 2005 World Championships. In 2007 he won the Lake Biwa Marathon and competed at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka finishing 25th. At the 2008 Olympic marathon he finished 55th, and 66th at the 2012 Men’s marathon.
Hasheem Thabeet , first Tanzanian to join NBA
Hasheem Thabeet Manka made headlines after being drafted in the prestigious American National Basketball Association (NBA) in 2009 playing for Memphis Grizzlies. He also played for Dakota Wizards, Houston Rockets, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. He was the first Tanzanian ever to play in the NBA.
Cana Zone 3 swimming competition
Tanzania won the first swimming title in Kigali, Rwanda in 2016 and later defended the edition held in Tanzania one year later in the Cana Zone 3 swimming competition.
Swimming is emerging as a competitive game in Tanzania thanks to the efforts of the swimming governing body (TSA). The country now has many swimmers competing in international events.
Some of the prominent swimmers include Collins Saliboko who was given a sport scholarship by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Hilal Hilal. There are up and coming swimmers like Peter Itatiro, Romeo Mihaly, Alberto Itatiro, Delbert Ipilinga, Amylia Chali, Maryam Ipilinga, Crissa Dilip, Nawal Shebe and Natalia Ladha.
Ladha now swims for the United States based club, Swim Fast.
Hassan Mwakinyo surprises the world in Birmingham
Little known Tanzania professional boxer, Hassan Mwakinyo, made headlines in the international media after a technical knockout (TKO) win against British boxer Sam Aggington in the third round in 2018. Mwakinyo was awarded a plot of land by President John Magufuli for the win. Mwakinyo now holds African Boxing Union (ABU) super welterweight title.
Mbwana Samatta in English Premier League
In January 2020 Tanzania-born player Mbwana Samatta became the first Tanzanian-born footballer to join an English Premier League club. Samatta signed for Aston Villa and became the first player to score in the League.
Before playing in the English Premier League Samatta had played in the Belgian First Division A for KRC Genk. From England he joined the Fenerbache of Turkey before returning to Belgium where he is currently playing for Antwerp.
Prior to going to Europe Samatta had played in the DR Congo for TP Mazembe for five years. He was named the 2015 African based Player of the Year and finished the season as the top goal scorer of the CAF Champions League, as he helped TP Mazembe to win the title.
In Tanzania, Samatta played for giants Simba Sports Club.
Tanzania hosts Africa Cup of Nations for youth
Tanzania made history in 2019 when it hosted the U-17 African Cup of Nations for the under 17 youth. It was the first time Tanzania had hosted the tournament. Tanzania qualified for the first time in the U-17 African Cup of Nations in 2017.
Failuna Abdi Matanga in Athletics
Matanga is one of the up and coming runners in the country currently. She represented Tanzania in the 2021 Olympics Games in Tokyo, Japan where she participated in the marathon. She also represented the country at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics. In 2019 she competed in the senior women’s race at the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships held in Aarhus, Denmark and finished in 16th place.