As China and the United States battle to claim the most Olympic medals – with gold-medal and all-medal counts being frantically tallied and talked about – many other countries' athletes are overjoyed to take home their nations' first gold, or even bronze.
Kings and presidents make personal calls to congratulate the winners, and millions cheer on their tiny delegations with pride.
"It's a great honor for us to win Afghanistan's first medal for the Olympics," said Farhad Kheslat, President of Afghanistan's National Olympic Committee.
|Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images|
Rohullah Nikpai of Afghanistan celebrates his third-place win during the medal ceremony for the men's 58-kilogram taekwondo competition, in Beijing, on Wednesday.
"We are quite happy, I can't express it," Kheslat said after Rohullah Nikpai won a bronze medal in the men's under 58-kilogram taekwondo competition.
President Hamid Karzai called the athlete to congratulate him for his Olympic contribution to the war torn country that's competed in 11 Games since 1936.
Pride of Togo
Benjamin Boukpeti became Togo's first Olympic medalist when he paddled across the finish line in the men's individual kayak slalom to win the bronze on Tuesday. He was so excited that he slammed his paddle across his kayak in jubilation and smashed it in two – pumping each piece of the broken paddle in victory.
"To win – for me, this bronze medal is bigger than gold," said Boukpeti in a phone interview. "It is really amazing for me and for the country."
|Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo celebrates after winning the bronze in the men's single KI kayak final on Aug.12.|
Born to a French mother and a Togolese father, Boukpeti grew up in France and has not spent any time in Togo since he was a baby. Now, at 27 years old, he'll return to Togo in the next few days carrying the small West African country of 5 million's first Olympic medal.
"Togo has given the maximum for our delegation - so the delegation has had a very good ambience and that helped me win," said Boukpeti. The Togolese Olympic delegation includes four athletes in all – two men who competed in judo and tennis, and one woman who ran the 400 meters.
Boukpeti said he wasn't surprised at the victory because he had done well in Athens – he finished in 18th place out of the overall competition – what Olympic organizers labeled "arguably Togo's best result" in the history of their six Olympic Games since 1972.
He said he had trained incredibly hard over the last few years in France, had improved a lot, and with the huge support he had gotten from Togo, he knew he could do it.
He admitted that it was sort of funny to win his medal in a sport that many in soccer-mad Togo aren't familiar with and have only seen on TV, but he said the nation's support for him has been amazing.
"I can't really imagine what they will do when I return to Togo," said Boukpeti. He said he's gotten tons of phone calls from his father's family in Togo congratulating him on the win and encouraging him to get back there quickly so they can celebrate. "It's the first time Togo is being recognized for being really good in sports. They are very happy."
'A new era in Bahrain's sports'
Likewise, Bahrain is embracing its first medalist, Rashid Ramzi, who won the gold for the men's 1,500 meter by racing across the finish line in 3:32.94, besting Kenya's Asbel Kipruto Kirpop who crossed in 3:33.11.
After competing in the Olympic Games six times since 1984 and going home medal-less every time, Ramzi's victory was a huge step in Bahrain's quest to make its mark in international sports.
"We are very proud of this achievement and we hope this will mark a new era in Bahrain's sports," said Nebal Bahran, press attaché for Bahrain's delegation of 15 athletes. The entire country is taking pride in Ramzi's victory – Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa was one of the first people to call Ramzi to congratulate him on his feat.
Ramzi, 28, moved to Bahrain from Morocco when he was 19 years old and has trained with the national team in Bahrain and Europe ever since.
Despite being a small nation of just 700,000, the small oil-rich archipelago has big ambitions. "Our target in these Olympic Games is to be the best among the Arabic competitors," said Bahran, adding that they are close – being tied up with Tunisia in terms of medal count. Tunisia has also won one medal – a gold as well – for men's 1500 meter swimming.
"Our goal is to build a new generation of athletics in Bahrain," said Bahran. The hope is that Ramzi's medal is the first of many.
Lending hope for peace
While Bahrain and Togo have much to be proud of, with a delegation of just four athletes who train in battle-scarred Kabul, the Afghan athletes very presence was an accomplishment, never mind winning a bronze.
"We had the hope to win, but we didn't know for sure it would be possible. But when our hopes came true, we were very, very happy," said Kheslat, head of Afghanistan's national Olympic committee.
In a country that has been plagued by war and internal strife for the last 30 years, there hasn't been much of chance for sports – recreational or professional. Afghanistan's last Olympic best was fifth place in wrestling in 1964.
Although the three other athletes who competed in Beijing did not win medals, even Robina Muqimyar's last-place finish in the 100 meter sprint was monumental. Since her 2004 debut in Athens, she's been the country's first and only female Olympian since the fall of the hard-line Taliban that banned women from sports.
As war continues to ravage their homeland, Kheslat said that the team hopes their achievements can bring some normalcy back to the south Asian nation.
"We do our best to bring peace to Afghanistan through sports," said Kheslat.
"Afghanistan is in a war, but our pupil gives hope for peace," said Mohammed Bashir Taraki, Nikpai's coach for the last six years. Maybe by winning just one medal, he succeeded in that lofty goal.