In History: the tragic life of El Ouafi Boughéra

Few of the champions like Boughéra El Ouafi have come so close to oblivion. The man has been so forgotten that even today, we doubt the exact order of his name and his first name. Is it Boughéra El Ouafi or El Ouafi Boughéra?

In all likelihood, El Ouafi (or rather Louafi) was his first name and Boughéra his last name. That said, the reverse order is more often found in sports charts. It should be noted here that all this dates back to more than a hundred years ago.

Incorporated into the French army

At the time, Algeria was French and colonial officials often listed the names of the natives only phonetically. We are in 1918, the young El Ouafi is incorporated into the French army at the same time as 170,000 other skirmishers from the colonies. He did not know the front, it seems, the end of the war having preceded his arrival in Europe. It will however remain quartered in the Ruhr, within the forces known as “of dissuasion” because, at the time, the staffs were very afraid of a “resumption of fire” they said. That is to say a restart of the fighting.

Several tens of thousands of soldiers therefore remained mobilized for months after the armistice and were terribly bored! To break up the monotony of the days, we organized small sports competitions for them. It was there that El Ouafi discovered his astounding athleticism. He was able to run without fatigue for hours on end, far surpassing everyone else’s endurance capabilities.

A born champion

The following ? The little Algerian rifleman becomes a formidable running champion. El Ouafi twice won the French marathon championship and, above all, he won the gold medal at the Amsterdam Olympic Games in 1928. The consecration! After this victory, he will experience a short moment of glory. During a trip to the United States, he rubbed shoulders with stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Johnny Weissmüller (Tarzan), Maurice Chevalier or even Mistinguett. Then everything changes sadly. On his return to France, El Ouafi was excluded from sport for reasons of professionalism and sank in poverty and oblivion. El Ouafi’s victory in the Olympic marathon at the Amsterdam Games in 1928 therefore remains the high point of his career.

A strange death

El Ouafi Boughéra died on October 18, 1959 in circumstances which have still not been clarified, 62 years later! At the time, he was 60 years old and lived in poverty in Saint-Denis near Paris, in a room above a cafe owned by his brother-in-law. He never goes out so as not to inspire pity. Nothing remains of his past glory when he is shot in a mysterious shootout.

We talked about a family dispute. But the champion’s nieces, present in the house on the day of the tragedy, refute this explanation. El Ouafi may have been the victim of an attack by the FLN (National Liberation Front). We are in the middle of the Algerian war. The FLN levies a revolutionary tax and sometimes attacks those who refuse to pay. It is not very credible there again. El Ouafi was poor and led a secluded life forgotten by all.

The origin of the shooting could lie in what has been called “the coffee war”, that is to say the merciless struggle between the FLN and the MNA (Algerian National Movement) to take the lead in the fight for independence in France. He would then have been the victim of a “stray” bullet.

A journey told in comics

The life of El Ouafi Boughéra has just been beautifully recounted in a comic book album by Nicolas Debon entitled Marathon (ed. Dargaux, 2020). Its author is also the subject of an interview in the Zatopek Magazine currently on newsstands. And to celebrate Christmas, the magazine team Zatopek offers you to win a copy of this comic. To participate, simply send an email to the address [email protected] with your name, first name and address. The winner will be drawn among the participants and we will send him the comic.

We would love to thank the writer of this short article for this incredible material

In History: the tragic life of El Ouafi Boughéra