Israeli sprinter Blessing Afrifah won a surprise gold medal in the men’s 200-meter race at the under-20s World Athletic Championships in Colombia on Thursday, setting a new championship record.
Afrifah, 18, beat Letsile Tebogo of Botswana — the favorite to win — by six-thousandths of a second, finishing the race in 19.96 seconds and winning the second gold medal ever for Israel at the championship.
The victory marks a new championship record and only the fourth time in history that a sprinter under the age of 20 has finished a 200-meter race in under 20 seconds. It was also the first race in which two under 20 athletes both finished under 20 seconds.
“I have no words. I am very excited,” Afrifah told the Kan public broadcaster and added he did not expect the results: “This was my dream, and I am very happy it came true.”
Afrifah was born in Tel Aviv in 2003 to Ghanan migrants. His interest in athletics began with soccer when he trained from a young age with the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team.
However, unable to pay the fees, Afrifah gave up on his aspirations in the sport.
He returned to Maccabi a few years later and joined the athletics department. Since then, he has proven himself to be one of Israel’s most talented sprinters.
By 2019, he ranked second at the Israel Championship for adults in the 200m category, but could not be officially crowned, since he was not a citizen at the time, despite living in Israel all his life.
As such, he was unable to represent the Jewish state on the world stage until 2020, when he was finally granted citizenship following an extended legal struggle.
Israel’s Blessing Afrifah (L) and Botswana’s Letsile Tabogo compete in the men’s 200m competition during the World Athletics Under 20 Championship in Cali, Colombia, on August 4, 2022. (Joaquin SARMIENTO / AFP)
Israel’s Yonathan Kapitolnik was the first to win gold in the under-20 championship when he won last year’s high jump event.