Series on Olympic Scholarship Holders Beijing 2008: today Benjamin Boubketi:
In Athens, Benjamin Boukpeti was the first canoeist to represent Africa at the Olympic Games. In Beijing, he plans on becoming the first to win a medal. But he’ll also be cheering on a member of the French team – his older brother, Olivier. Benjamin and Olivier were brought up by a French mother and a Togolese father near Paris, and both learnt canoeing at their local club.
Olivier quickly established himself in the French flatwater team, but shoulder injuries hampered Benjamin’s progress, and in 2003 an opportunity presented itself to represent his father’s country and play a part in the French federation’s development programme. Since then, the 26-year-old has gone from strength to strength, reaching the Olympic slalom K-1 semi-finals in 2004, becoming African champion earlier this year and qualifying for Beijing in the process.
Along the way, he has provided inspiration for a country and a continent where canoeing is developing apace as a sport. When he’s not negotiating the rapids, Boukpeti admits to a liking for travelling, socialising and good parties, but he’s equally dedicated to a career in business, which he’s been studying for the past three years in Toulouse near to his training centre. “I’ve been tremendously inspired by the business world,” he says.
“I’ve learnt about professionalism and how a team works, and all that has helped me enormously with my preparations.” He has a job lined up to start immediately after the Olympic Games, and if the enthusiasm that leaps off the pages of his own website is anything to go by, Boukpeti will go as far in his professional life as he already has in his chosen sport.
Confidence and level-headedness
A striking combination of confidence and level-headedness will also play its part. “In competition it’s important to remain as lucid as you can,” he explains. “You need a lot of technical skill to navigate the river, but it’s also very important to keep your humility. Every day the river tells us we are not the masters. What has given me the most satisfaction is just the feeling of having made progress year after year.”