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Friday, August 01, 2008

Minnows Dream of Hogging Limelight

Minnows Dream of Hogging Limelight

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Powerhouse nations like China, the United States and Russia might grab all the Olympic gold medal attention but the world's sporting minnows plan to grab at least some of the limelight.

While some nations might whine about winning dozens of medals, others will be glad of just one -- and a bronze at that.

More than 80 countries competing in Beijing have never before been on the Olympic podium. For a myriad of reasons -- political, geographical, financial -- their sporting prowess has never matured.

Tiny Brunei might be oil rich but when it comes to producing athletes, it is lacking big time. The small monarchy on the island of Borneo will be competing in its fifth Summer Olympics but will inevitably go home empty-handed.

Bhutan is bigger than Brunei but remains one of the most secluded countries in the world, tucked between Asian heavyweights China and India.

Their national sport is archery -- competitions are held regularly in villages throughout the monarchy -- and they have an outside chance after six Games with no joy.

The Maldives, like Brunei, has a population of less than 400,000 and has similarly lacked medals. Being a series of tropical islands it is not surprising that their best hope this year is in swimming.

Cambodia may not be a minnow in population terms, but it remains that way in the sporting arena.

Its troubled history meant that sport was put on hold for most of the 1970s and 1980s, before it once again took part in the Olympics in 1996.

Boxing is its forte and 15 athletes will be in Beijing, including swimmer Hem Thon Ponloeu and his 16-year-old niece Hem Thon Vitiny.

Timor-Leste, one of the world's poorest countries, became the first new nation of the 21st century when it declared independence from Indonesia in 2002, just in time to send a team to Athens.

It's key sports are boxing, weightlifting, taekwondo and athletics.

But severe shortages of money, facilities and equipment means the nation faces more obstacles than most in achieving its Olympic dream, and only marathon runners Antonio Ramos and Mariana Diaz Ximenez will be in Beijing.

"In all the other sports we cannot qualify to participate in Beijing. Sport is not a priority for the government of East Timor and our infrastructure is non-existent," said Joao Carrascalao, the head of Timor's Olympic committee.

"We don't have any hope of winning the marathon, but to finish the marathon is already an achievement."

War-torn Iraq will send just two athletes - Haidar Nasir in the discus and sprinter Danma Hussein - following a spat with the International Olympic Committee last month that led to the suspension of Iraq's Olympic committee.

Agreement between the IOC and the Iraqi government was only reached on Wednesday and by that time the deadline for competitors had passed for all events except athletics.

Like many Asian nations, Africa has its fair share on non-achievers.

While countries like Ethiopia and Kenya have a tradition of churning out world-beating distance runners, the vast majority of Africa nations have never produced the goods.

This includes Angola, Chad, Gambia, Liberia, and Malawi.

Rwanda is another lacking the means to focus on sport, whose main medal hopes are Dieudonne Disi in the 10,000m and Epiphanie Nyirabarame in the women's marathon. Nigeria will be looking towards jukoda Vivian Yusuf.

Other countries never to have made the podium include Bolivia, Cook Islands, Jordan, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, Vanuatu, and Yemen.

A handful of nations have won just one bronze medal since the Games started in 1896, including Iraq, Kuwait, Niger, Kyrgyzstan, and Guyana.

Panama and Qatar have two bronze each while highflyers such as Vietnam, Paraguay, Tonga, and Senegal have a silver medal to their name.

There have been some surprising flops over the years, with countries like Malaysia only ever collecting three medals (one silver and two bronze), on a par with Iceland.



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