Benjamin Boukpeti: The kayaker who brought home Togo’s first ever Olympic medal

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The day will forever be remembered in Togo’s sporting history. On the 12th of August 2008 when kayaker Benjamin Boukpeti became Togo’s only Olympic medalist.

‘After the first round of the qualifiers, I did so bad. I was definitely on my way to the exit and not going to the semi-finals. So I was in tears after the first round. I was like that’s it. Four years of preparation and it was as if it was all finished for me now. 

I completely blew it. I could see my brother and mother in the stands; I felt horrible. But what happened next is I had raced an incredible second round. I did the best time of anyone in the second round and at that moment I really thought to myself that there’s something big to do here.’

The following day during the semi-final and final Boukpeti took his chance, helped by some inspirational coach and maybe a world famous olympian.

‘I discovered a message my coach had left on the wall which is a sentence Mohammud Ali which says “don’t count the day, make the day count”. 

I told myself, this is it. It is this evening. I have to do everything to make this day specific. So for the first round which was the semi final the race was insane and I found myself taking first place.

I think that was the first time in my career that I was first. I was the leader. It was probably the only scenario I didn’t think of before.’

Overwhelmed by the emotions of leading the competition Boukpeti almost failed his last race but managed to pull himself together to finish third.

Benjamin Boukpeti with his bronze Olympic medal from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games

When I won that medal in 2008 the most important thing for me was to realise that I was competent to make it happen, to gain my father’s recognition at that time. To get the people who came with me, a recognition.’

And he got the recognition of a whole country, Togo as he managed to make a mark in Olympic History and while his competition days are now over Boukpeti continues to write his own story and to apply in his daily life, the values that have propelled him to the top of Mount Olympus.

‘Today I am the father of a three-year-old daughter. I try to apply the same principles to raise her. I ask myself what does it mean for me to be an amazing dad and how can I, I hope in a few years time tell myself “wow, I am an olympic medalist of the dad challenge.”

So my message today is to dare to live and thrill for your passion. Whatever gives you colour, whatever gives you light, whatever gives you energy, whatever brings enthusiasm in life, try to make it present all the time.’

Benjamin Boukpeti is a French-born Togolese slalom canoeist who competed at the international level from 2003 to 2012.

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