Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 – four years later it joined the Olympic community at the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo. The weirdly-shaped landlocked nation of West Africa had very little experience in or resources applied to organized sports. And yet, Mali sent three officials and two athletes to join the party.
22-year old Dramane Sereme was one of the two. A medical student in East Germany, Sereme was clearly considered a good athlete. But a decathlete? The decathlon is considered the most grueling of the athletic competitions, and the winner is crowned the “World’s Greatest Athlete”.
Well, in the first of the ten disciplines, Sereme finished the 100 meters race in 11.1 seconds, beating out athletes from Germany, the US and Canada. He was only 0.1 seconds behind the favored C. K. Yang of Taiwan, a close friend of Rafer Johnson, the man won the decathlon in Rome just ahead of Yang.
Next came the long jump, and Dramane must have leveraged his sprinter’s speed for a decent 6.51 meter leap, which dropped him to only 15th of 22. But reality must have begun to weigh heavily, like the shot put he heaved for 11 meters, a good 5 meters behind the leader. Finishing last in the high jump, Dramane was in last place after 4 events.
Dramane ended up finishing 18th, but he did complete the decathlon. Four other decathletes failed to do so.
As they say, the Olympics is about participating, not about winning. And for the first time, Mali was in the game.