Ivory Coast won its first Olympic gold medal in history on Friday in Rio. Taekwondo athlete Cheick Cisse won gold after defeating a Tunisian competitor in the finals. Earlier in the day, teammate Ruth Gbagbi won a bronze medal. Prior to that, the West African nation had only won a single Olympic medal – a silver – in track and field 32 years ago.
The historic victory was received with a lot of emotion in Ivory Coast, said Amadou Ouattara, secretary-general of the Ivorian Taekwondo Federation.
“It’s a feeling of joy. It’s not very often that African nations are winning Olympic medals. So we are very proud,” he added.
Ouattara expressed hope the medals will help in developing the sport and bring in more sponsors.
Cheick Cisse and Ruth Gbagbi, the two medalists, are no newcomers in the sport. Twenty-year-old Cissé had already won gold in the African Games last year, and also won the African championship this year. So has Gbagbi, three times in a row.
Just weeks before heading to Brazil, the Olympic team spoke to VOA in their training facility, located under the national stadium in Abidjan.
Between a series of back kicks, 22-year-old Gbagbi said she was feeling confident.
“I’m relaxed, I’m serene,” said Gbagbi who had already some Olympic experience in London in 2012. “A lot of fans approach us, they encourage us. Ivorians are motivated.”
Teammate Cheick Cisse said it’s often challenging to train at a high level in Africa due to limited resources available.
“We hope that if we get an Olympic medal, it will smooth things up for the younger generation so they can train comfortably across the continent,” he said.
The team is expecting to come home in the next few days. The federation said arrangements are being made to give the Olympians a very, very warm welcome.