Eloi Adjavon's Quest for Olympic Glory

Togolese triathlon trailblazer

Meet Eloi Adjavon '14, University College Utrecht alumnus and 2024 Olympic hopeful aspiring to make history as the first Togolese Olympic triathlete. His journey traverses continents and cultures, weaving a vibrant tapestry of his diverse heritage and nomadic upbringing. Now, embarking on an inspirational athletic project, Adjavon's path leads him across the globe, poised to make an indelible mark on the world stage.

Born in Togo to a Togolese father and a French mother, Adjavon's childhood was a whirlwind of relocation and exploration with his family across various African countries. From Togo to Ghana, Kenya to Senegal, with a brief interlude in France, his formative years were a mosaic of experiences, blending the familiarity of his parents' origins with the vibrant tapestry of African life.

Growing up, sports were a constant companion, with swimming reigning supreme among his athletic pursuits. Yet, his curiosity extended beyond the confines of the pool, encompassing sports like football, basketball, volleyball, and running. Adjavon's educational journey was equally diverse, marked by broad interests and pursuit of intellectual challenges. From initially studying film in France to moving to the Netherlands and delving into philosophy, neuroscience, and linguistics at UCU, his academic trajectory mirrored his multifaceted identity.

Photo: Bastien Casse

"I wanted to do directing, so I thought studying philosophy would help develop my worldview to tell better stories." At UCU, he encountered a philosophy course with Dr. Chiara Robbiano, a teacher whose influence furthered his passion for comparative philosophy and critical thinking. Alongside his academic pursuits, he was also a founding member of UCStudios and embarked on a semester abroad in Hong Kong, further broadening his horizons. 

After graduating from UCU in 2014, Adjavon experienced a test of resilience as he navigated rejection and uncertainty in his pursuit of film studies. He contemplated alternative paths and grappled with the allure of adventure, particularly the prospect of a global cycling odyssey. Fate had other plans, steering him towards a film school in Belgium, where his creative aspirations found fertile ground. Despite the allure of a nomadic existence on two wheels, he embraced the opportunity afforded by his acceptance into the film program, recognizing it as a chance to merge his philosophical musings with his passion for storytelling and film directing.

The Olympic dream

Even amidst the rigors of academia, Adjavon's affinity for sports was ever-present: "Sports were still in the back of my mind during all those years, including at UCU. I co-founded BicyCo at UCU and did a bikepacking trip. I also went with friends for hour-long, early morning rides before class. We called them 'Sun Rides'. It felt amazing to start the day actively and return to find my unitmates only just waking up."

At UCU and film school in Belgium, Adjavon was bothered by missing out on daytime and outdoor activities due to classes, especially during sunny days. Alongside his love of sport and the outdoors, he described a long-time fascination with the human body's capabilities, and how the universal potential for physical prowess ignited a latent dream in elite athletics: "Being able to harness your body to move and do things has always fascinated me. I find crafting your body to become an expert in a certain domain beautiful because the potential is there, perhaps in some people more than others. But theoretically, everybody can do it."

In 2019, the realisation that he couldn't ignore his longing for an athletic pursuit any longer came to the fore on a winter hike in the Alps. The allure of the Olympic Games represented the pinnacle of athletic achievement, a beacon of excellence that beckoned him since childhood. Triathlon emerged as his chosen path, embodying the challenge and diversity he sought in sports. Adjavon recalled the moment he decided he would take the chance, "On that hike, I thought to myself, what I really love is being active and being outdoors. I’ve had the Olympic dream since I was a kid because I always thought it was the epitome of sports, all the best people in the world getting together. I had to try [triathlon]," he explained.

Back in 2012, he was greatly inspired by watching Togolese swimmer Adzo Kpossi, a mere 13 at the time, compete in the Summer Olympics. Adjavon also harbored a desire to put his body to the test, to represent his homeland on the world stage, and was compelled to confront the specter of regret. "I didn't want it to be 20-30 years later and to have this regret of what would have happened if I had tried," he explained. "So I thought, you know, it's better to try and fail than to never try and always be eaten up by this question."

Eloi competing in his first triathlon (Photo: Clemence Depoortere)

That year, Adjavon finished 77th in his first triathlon, coming away with a love for the sport and a new project: qualifying for the Olympic Games. Motivated by the prospect of adding representation to Togo's Olympic roster and inspiring others, he embarked on a journey. However, the road to Olympic qualification proved arduous and he encountered obstacles in the process, including the absence of a triathlon federation in Togo. Undeterred, he resolved to create one, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to his Olympic dream: "Suddenly it became a part of this project to spearhead the creation of the Fédération Togolaise de Triathlon (FTTri) - which we did in 2020, after a year of back and forth with the Togolese National Olympic Committee (TNOC) and World Triathlon. Not only does the federation support me in the Olympic qualification pursuit, it also supports young Togolese athletes who want to discover the sport of triathlon."

The road to Paris

We hear these stories all the time, but I want to make myself believe that if you put in the work, you can achieve big things. If it can make other people believe that, too, that would be amazing.

Preparing for the Olympic Games is not just about physical endurance; it's also a test of unwavering dedication and mental resilience. In 2020, Adjavon shifted his dream into high gear by hiring a professional triathlon coach, joining an elite training group, and financing a new bike and equipment. 

In 2021, he competed in his first international race, becoming the first athlete to represent Togo at a World Triathlon event, and met his current coach, Adrien Vives. Vives saw his athletic potential and ambition, leading Adjavon to eventually join Team SPIX, an international training group of elite triathletes led by Vives. The team dynamic fosters not only healthy competition, but also mutual support and encouragement. Over the years and especially now, Adjavon's training regimen is nothing short of intense, involving two to three sessions per day, spanning swimming, running, biking, gym workouts and VO2max tests. Each day is meticulously planned to maximise training while ensuring adequate recovery time. Adjavon temporarily relocated to southern France to be nearer to Vives and the team for this last phase of training. However, balancing training with other aspects of life comes with its own set of challenges. 

The demands of elite-level training often leave little room for anything else, requiring sacrifices not only from Adjavon, but also from those around him. The misconception that sports are merely hobbies can occassionally lead to a lack of understanding of the magnitude of a commitment to an Olympic dream. He further explained, "When I got out of film school, I thought it would be an interesting to focus a product on life as an elite athlete. What does it mean to your life if you do full-time sports? You know, like, what do you gain? What do you lose? What becomes difficult? What are the things that you did not expect would be important that actually are? You're making sacrifices, but the people around you may also need to make sacrifices and take your goal seriously. Qualifying for the Olympics may seem abstract and intangible to them, especially if they don’t know what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis to reach this goal." The relentless schedule of at least 23 hours of active training per week, in addition to proper recovery and nutrition leaves little time for leisure or socializing. Even seemingly simple activities, like going out for dinner, become logistical challenges. Yet, despite the sacrifices and challenges, Adjavon remains steadfast in his pursuit.

With the guidance of an experienced coach and the camaraderie of fellow athletes, three of whom are on the cusp of qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, Adjavon has found himself in an environment conducive to growth and improvement. Since 2021, hehas increased his world rankings from 800th to 450th to his current ranking of 236th. In 2022 and 2023, he competed in 12 international races across Africa, placing 5th in the 2023 Africa Triathlon Continental Championships. Now, he is striving to move 56 places before May 27th to reach a world ranking within the Top 180 triathletes. This will secure a Universality Place reserved for athletes from underrepresented nations and punch his ticket to the Games. With each training session and competition he inches closer to Olympic qualification, determined to leave no stone unturned.

Photo: Clemence Depoortere

Motivation on the homestretch

As Adjavon approaches the final stretch of his Olympic qualification journey, maintaining motivation remains paramount. Over the last five years, his drive has evolved. Initially fueled by curiosity and the excitement of international competition, his motivation has matured with each race. The reality of Olympic participation now looms closer, prompting a mix of emotions. He grapples with the sacrifices required and ponders the significance of his endeavor, while also confronting the possibility that this might be his last shot at the Olympics.

As an athlete from Togo striving to compete on the Olympic stage, he has faced unique challenges in funding and visibility but draws strength from his support network. Adjavon is actively seeking financial backing to cover travel expenses for six upcoming international races and launched a crowdfunding campaign to rally support. These races are crucial and his final opportunities to score the competition points required for Olympic qualification. Though previously managing to finance his training and competitions through a variety of means—such as working in a restaurant, securing modeling contracts, and receiving an Olympic Scholarship in 2023—he now aims to channel 100% of his focus and energy into training and competing during the final phase of the qualification period leading up to the Paris Olympics.

Ultimately, Adjavon hopes to not only realise an Olympic dream, but that his journey will inspire others to pursue their dreams, even in the face of adversity. He aims to serve as an inspiration to young athletes from Togo, demonstrating that with dedication and support, achieving athletic aspirations is within reach.

If someone, at least one person could see my story and then think, I also have dreams that might sound crazy to other people. If this guy can start training and, five years later, go to the Olympic Games, there is no reason I can't put
in the work or dare to dream.

While the road to the Olympics can be fraught with challenges, Adjavon is steadfast and his resilience shines through. Every grueling training session and every sacrifice made brings him one step closer to his Olympic dream. While the journey may feel solitary at times, he finds comfort in knowing he is supported by a dedicated team, family, friends and people across the globe.

Support Eloi's Olympic Journey

Beyond the Games

Photo: Clemence Depoortere

Looking beyond the Olympic Games, Adjavon is optimistic about the potential impact of his endeavors, both in sports and beyond. Acknowledging the uncertainty that lies ahead, he embraces the multitude of possibilities and paths, including further involvement in sports, potential film projects, and initiatives to promote athletics in Togo and across Africa. He draws inspiration from projects like  Amsterdam-based Team AMANI, which brings initiatives together to enhance inclusivity in cycling and create opportunities for riders based in East Africa.

Already, his impact in Togo is palpable. In 2023, FTTri organized a development course to begin the training of a cohort of triathlon officials with the aim of hosting an inaugural triathlon event in Togo. In the future, they intend to bolster triathlon in Togo through various means, including workshops, events, races, and outreach programs designed to introduce young athletes to the sport. The FTTri also recently announced that triathlon has been granted Olympic status for Togolese athletes aspiring to compete in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Inspired by the transformative power of investment and belief, Adjavon sees opportunities to make a meaningful difference, whether through sports development or showcasing the untapped beauty of Africa.

There’s so much potential in Africa and I would love to be involved [in initiatives there]. Like, why not? Let's make it happen.

Eloi Adjavon '14