Going Global: Investigating the Ghana triathlon scene

Unlike the East African Olympic giants of Kenya and Ethiopia, Ghana’s Olympic record is negligible, winning four medals in its history and none of those on the track. So what hope does Tarek have when there isn’t a strong swim, bike or running heritage in Ghana?


“There’s very little endurance sport in Ghana, but cycling is improving in popularity and there’s now a Tour of Ghana. The talent is there though. I was doing a 10km run on the track and a 16-year-old boy started running by my side. I did it in 34mins and he was with me every step of the way. After the race he was smiling and wasn’t out of breath. So I asked him, ‘What’s the longest you’ve ever run?’ He said, ‘That was!’ We just need to galvanise these athletes.”

Research by David Epstein in The Sports Gene and by the University of the Copenhagen suggests Kenyan runners (namely the Kalenjin tribe) are genetically suited to endurance running. Additionally, the Jamaican medical researcher, Errol Morrison, has a hypothesis that believes “malaria in Western Africa forced the proliferation of genes that protect against it and that those genes, which reduce an individual’s ability to make energy aerobically, have led to a shift in more fast-twitch muscle fibres”, which isn’t conducive to the largely slow-twitch endurance sport of triathlon. So are genetics against the Ghanaian would-be triathletes before they’ve even begun?

“I think climatically and culturally there are issues in West Africa. First of all, the climate in Ethiopia is easier as parts of it are at 2,000m, which is cooler, and then you have the performance benefits of training at altitude. So when you come down again you feel like a rock star. It’s just too hot and humid to run in Ghana for three hours. We have a marathon here, but it starts about 4am and the coolest it’ll ever be is 28°C. I think it’s the lack of facilities that are holding people back.”


Ghana boasts the second largest economy in Western Africa (if you ate a Cadbury chocolate bar today, there’s a high chance it came from Ghana), but how does it compare with South Africa in structure? “South Africa is a developed country with paved roads, so it’s hard to follow their model. The infrastructure in Ghana is so poor and it’s very hard to set up a sport like javelin or long jump let alone an expensive sport like triathlon, because it involves equipment,” adds Tarek.

“The facilities aren’t there for mass participation swimming either but, where there are pools in Ghana, they’re used. There’s a village called Keta with an estuary going into the ocean. There are great swimmers from there who are famous around Ghana for swimming. So, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come.”

And what does the future hold for Tarek in the Ghanaian tri-suit? “I’m 32, so I doubt I’ll have any elite dreams, but I have the hunger to progress. I have goals and my new coach [British racing great] Spencer Smith has goals for me. It’d be great to have him come to Ghana to lead some coaching sessions.” And with that tantalising image, Tarek is off, an infectious whirlwind seemingly buoyed by the vast challenges that lay ahead.

Source: www.220triathlon.com