Eke Becomes First Nigerian Olympic Gymnast, Qualifies to Tokyo Alongside Egypt’s Mohamed

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Ziad Khater, Omar Mohamed, and Uche Eke

The men’s competition at the African Championships wrapped up today, with Omar Mohamed of Egypt winning the all-around title to earn a continental quota spot at the 2020 Olympic Games alongside Uche Eke of Nigeria, who won the bronze medal and became his country’s first-ever Olympic gymnast. The two are the first and only gymnasts from Africa to qualify to Tokyo.

Mohamed got off to a great start, putting up the top routine on floor in the first rotation, and then extending his lead tenth by tenth as each rotation went by thanks to hit routine after hit routine. The 22-year-old first won the African Championships title back in 2018, and has represented Egypt at world cups and world championships this quad, though he missed out in 2019, making this week his first and only chance at winning an Olympics berth.

With an especially impressive Shewfelt on vault as well as a clean and controlled high bar routine with multiple big releases, Mohammed was so dominant in this competition, he knew he’d secured his Olympic spot the second he landed his full-twisting double layout dismount on that final event. Though final scores have not yet been posted, Mohamad should be somewhere in the range of 2.5-3 points ahead of the rest of his competition, and I believe also broke an 80 in the all-around to become the only Egyptian MAG athlete to qualify to Tokyo this summer.

His teammates – 19-year-old Ziad Khater, who won the silver all-around medal, and 18-year-old Abdelrahman Abdelhaleem – also had very strong performances here, pointing to a very bright future for the Egyptian men. Khater was on Mohamed’s heels for a good deal of the meet, while Abdelhaleem got off to a weak start on floor, ending his first event in 11th place out of 16 athletes, though his improvements from then on helped him quickly climb the ranks to catch up to his teammates by the fourth rotation.

Eke, a 23-year-old who competed for the University of Michigan in both undergrad and grad school, kicked off his competition with a fantastic pommels routine that earned a 13.500, and he was unstoppable until the very end, hitting all six events to land on the podium behind Mohamed and Khater. Eke competed only three events at worlds in 2019, and doesn’t have much major international experience beyond that, but he looked confident and at ease with his performance in Cairo, where he made history for Nigeria to become the first gymnast in any discipline to qualify to an Olympic Games.

Mohamed Aouicha of Algeria was just over a point behind Eke going into the final rotation, and as the last man up on floor, the final standings came down to what he would do there, but he unfortunately sat his first pass to take him out of the running for the podium and for the Olympics berth. His teammate Mohamed Bourguieg, who represented Algeria at the Olympic Games in 2016 and was hoping to lock down a second trip here, unfortunately injured his knee while attempting a Kaz 1½ on vault and was unable to continue the competition, while Hillal Metidji, a veteran of seven world championships teams, had a rough performance on high bar to keep him from challenging in the end.

Morocco, South Africa, Cameroon, and Libya also sent gymnasts to compete in the men’s field, but none ended up being serious contenders for the Games, though Morocco’s Abderrazak Nasser was doing well until he got to parallel bars.

In the women’s competition, Zeina Ibrahim of Egypt and Naveen Daries of South Africa earned the two available continental quota berths to Tokyo, joining Mandy Mohamed of Egypt and Caitlin Rooskrantz of South Africa, both of whom qualified at the 2019 world championships.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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