Guinea Bissau Nominates Siphiwe Baleka, Age 50, for Olympic Games

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Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

Guinea Bissau Nominates Siphiwe Baleka, Age 50, for Olympic Games

Guinea Bissau has nominated Siphiwe Baleka to take a universality spot for the country at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The 50-year-old will become the oldest swimming Olympian in history.

The news was announced Tuesday in a press release by Claytown Productions, which produced an award-winning documentary on Baleka. Baleka completed the naturalization process to become a citizen of Guinea Bissau on June 10.

“The National Swimming Federation has never had a team compete at the Olympic Games,” Federation President Duarte Iola said in the release. “Not only will Mr. Baleka be the first swimmer from Guinea Bissau at the Olympics, but he will also, at the age of fifty, be the oldest swimmer in Olympic history.”

Baleka is a dual citizen of the United States. He’s won 13 U.S. Masters Swimming national championships and four silver medals at the 2017 Masters Swimming World Championship. Baleka, under the name of Tony Blake, was born in Illinois and swam at Yale and was an All-Ivy selection. (His cousin, according to the release, is Jacob Blake, whose shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisc., last year prompted days of protests nationally.)

After his swimming career, Baleka’s life took a variety of turns. He traveled through Africa and reconnected with his ancestry, from the Balanta ethnic group in Guinea Bissau, applying for citizenship as an “afro-descendant.” He became a truck driver and a fitness advocate. He became the subject of feature articles and a documentary. He began crowdfunding to cover expenses to train until the Tokyo Games.

And now, after turning 50 on April 14, he’s on the precipice of realizing a goal as an Olympian, in swimming the 50 free.

“I am extremely honored to represent the people of Guinea Bissau at the Olympics,” Baleka said. “Whatever the final result, at age 50, my perseverance is the very spirit of the Olympic movement.  I want my Olympic dream to serve as an example to others, especially the people of Guinea Bissau and middle-aged people everywhere.”

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