LONDON (AFP) – Togo’s 13-year-old swimmer Adzo Kpossi, the youngest competitor at the London 2012 Olympics, trains in a hotel pool and wears costumes bought on sale at the market.
Her goal at the Games was simple: to beat her personal best of 44.60sec in the 50m freestyle — a time nearly twice as long as the 23.73sec world record.
The teenager “has nothing to train with: no starting blocks, no flippers, no goggle straps”, her father and coach Kwami Kpossi told AFP.
Due to a dearth of public swimming baths in the west African country’s capital Lome, she trains five times a week at two hotel pools.
“The managers let us swim there for free” after school, said Kwami, a former sports teacher.
Even without these hurdles, Adzo’s training represents a big sacrifice for her modest family.
“The pool is 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from our house,” her devoted father said.
“It costs us a lot of money. Every three days, I have to fill up the car. But the Togolese Olympic Committee gives us a fixed amount towards the petrol.”
“I like the hard work,” said Adzo in her soft voice, her hands buried in the pockets of a Togo top and her long feet overshooting the ends of her flip-flops.
Despite her dedication, the youngster failed to even reach the minimum standard required to secure a place at the Olympics.
However, she was given a wildcard thanks to the Olympic tenet of representation coming from every corner of the globe.
Every national Olympic committee is allowed a spot in the athletics and swimming, regardless of whether their athletes meet the qualifying times.
Since Kpossi’s arrival in London in mid-July, fortune has not been on her side.
The teenager was struck down with malaria — “I spent three days in hospital. But now I’m OK again,” she said.
Her father adds: “If she doesn’t fulfil her duties here, don’t blame me!
“As she is the youngest athlete, I want her to show that it’s not age but determination, the love of the sport which prevails.”
A Rwandan competitor in the Athletes’ Village wishes her “good luck, kid!”, while a swimmer she has befriended from the Central African Republic tells her: “The most important thing is taking part.”
“My goal is to beat my personal best,” Kpossi said.
“I think I can do it, with the support of my friends. They have told me not to worry about the others, but uphold the honour of Togo.
“I put all that in the hands of the Lord”.
At the Aquatics Centre on Friday, in front of thousands of spectators, she clocked the second-slowest time in the 50m freestyle heats.
And in doing so, fulfilled her dream.
37.55 seconds — a new personal best.