Text & photographs by Helge Schutz
Namibia will compete at its sixth Summer Olympic Games in London in July, while the glory days of its first post-Independence Games still inspire us all.
Two years after independence, Namibia competed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, making an immediate impact when Frankie Fredericks won two silver medals in the 100m and 200m sprints. Four years later Fredericks was at the peak of his career and a hot favourite to win gold, but he once again had to settle for two silver medals, although this time it took near super-human performances to deny him gold. In the 100m, Donovan Bailey of Canada set a new world record of 9.84 seconds, with Fredericks second in 9.89. In the 200m, Michael Johnson of the United States smashed the world record with a time of 19.32, while Fredericks came second in 19.68.
Fredericks missed out on the 2000 Olympic Games due to injury and competed at his final Olympics four years later in Athens. But by this time his age was against him, as the 36-year-old Fredericks had to compete against a new generation of American sprinters and eventually fell just short of another medal when coming fourth in the 200m final.
Fredericks’s dominance on the international athletics stage was such that when he retired shortly after the Athens Olympic Games, it brought a huge void to Namibia’s medal hopes. This void is yet to be filled.
In 2008 a Namibian team of ten athletes competed at the Beijing Olympic Games, but their performances were nothing to write home about. The best performances came from Erik Hoffmann, who came 22nd in the Cycling Road Race, and Beata Naigambo, who came 28th in the women’s marathon.
Now, with the London Olympic Games imminent, Namibia already has nine athletes who have qualified. With the qualification deadline set for 8 July, there is a chance that one or two more can make the grade. This time the athletes have been prepared optimally, with the Namibia Olympic Committee giving preparation grants of up to N$100 000 per athlete well in advance. They will leave with high hopes of putting Namibia on the map. But, how realistic are their medal chances? Well, let’s take a look.
Dan Craven – Cycling
Dan Craven qualified for the London Olympics when he won a bronze medal at the 2010 African Cycling Championships in Rwanda. Since then Craven has made his mark at some international races, but he has also been quite unlucky, crashing out of some of the others.
He finished seventh overall at the La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon last January, but a month later crashed out of the Tour of South Africa. In August he gave a great performance, coming 12th at the Olympic Games test event, which saw some of the world’s top cyclists in action. However, a month later he once again crashed out of the Tour of Britain.
His results have not been too promising this year, as he finished second to Lotto Petrus at the National Cycling Championships, and crashed out of the RAS Cycling Race in Ireland, after leading the King of the Mountains competition.
If Craven can manage to stay out of trouble, he can hold his own against the best, as he showed at the Olympic Test event. However, a podium finish is highly unlikely.
Marc Bassingthwaighte – Mountain Biking
Marc Bassingthwaighte qualified for the Olympics when he won a silver medal at the African Mountain Bike Championships in South Africa in February 2011.
Bassingthwaighte finished six minutes behind South African under-23 world champion Burries Stander, while another South African, Philip Buys, came third.
This year, Bassingthwaighte has competed on the South African MB circuit, and on the world circuit, with varying degrees of success. He once again came second at the African MB Championships in Mauritius in May, finishing behind Buys, and finished 79th and 59th at two World Cup events in Europe in June.
A top-30 place at the Olympics would be a great achievement for Bassingthwaighte.
Beata Naigambo and Helalia Johannes – Women’s Marathon
Namibia’s two top female marathon athletes, Beata Naigambo and Helalia Johannes, have been pushing each other to record times over the past few years.
Both competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but were not at their best, with Naigambo finishing 28th and Johannes 40th.
Since then, however, they have brought the Namibian record down by nearly six minutes, and on current form could make an impact at the Olympics.
In October 2011 Johannes set a new Namibian record of 2:30:35, but three months later Naigambo reclaimed the record with a time of 2:29:20 at the Dubai Marathon.
In April 2012, however, Johannes smashed that record with a new time of 2:27:20 when coming third at the Vienna Marathon.
This year both athletes are still quite a way off the world’s fastest time of 2:18:37, which Kenya’s Mary Keitany set at the London Marathon, but the two women are sure to do better than they did at the 2008 Olympics.
A top-10 place for either athlete is possible.
Sem Shilimela – Wrestling
Wrestler Sem Shilimela qualified for the 2012 London Olympic Games when he won a silver medal at the Africa and Oceania Olympic Games Qualifying tournament in Marrakesh, Morocco.
It was a brilliant comeback by the 21-year-old Shilimela, who had earlier, at the same venue, managed only a fourth place at the African Wrestling Championships.
Competing in the under-55-kg freestyle category at the Olympic qualifiers, Shilimela won two fights to reach the final, where he lost on points to an Egyptian opponent. He had, however, booked his ticket to London, since the top two wrestlers in each category qualified for the Olympic Games.
It is, however, doubtful whether the youthful Shilimela will make an impact, while the draw and his first-round opponent will also play crucial roles in determining his chances.
Tjipekapora Herunga – Sprinting
Tjipekapora Herunga has been in brilliant form over the past year in the 200m and in her speciality event, the 400m.
She qualified for the Olympic Games in September 2011 when she won a bronze medal at the All Africa Games in a Namibian record time of 51.85 seconds, which was well within the Olympic B qualifying time of 52.35 seconds.
Since then, Herunga has excelled at the South African Yellow Pages series, winning several races, while she once again broke her Namibian record with a time of 51.24 seconds in April this year. Her time was within the Olympic A qualifying time of 51.55, and at that stage she was the tenth-fastest woman in the world.
The Americans and Jamaicans are expected to dominate the 400m, while Amantle Montsho of Botswana – who won gold at the 2011 World Championships – will also be one of the favourites. On current form, Herunga could well reach the final, which would be a great achievement for her.
Gaby Ahrens – Sport shooting
This will be the second time that Gaby Ahrens will compete at the Olympic Games, following her debut in Beijing in 2008. On that occasion she did not fare too well, as she was eliminated after the first round.
However, Ahrens has improved considerably over the past few years, making her mark at international level.
In October 2010 she won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and in May last year she won the gold medal at the African Shooting Championships in Morocco.
In May this year she won the bronze medal at the South African Olympic Trap Championships, despite being the only female amongst the 22 contestants.
If Ahrens reaches the final, it will be a great achievement for her.
Mujandjae Kasuto and Jonas Matheus – Boxing
Boxers Mujandjae Kasuto and Jonas Matheus clinched qualifying places for the Olympic Games at the African Olympic Qualifying competition in Morocco in May 2012.
Kasuto won a silver medal in the 75kg middleweight category, while Matheus clinched the fifth and final qualifying spot in the 56kg bantamweight category.
It will be Kasuto’s second participation, having made his debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he lost his first-round bout.
This time around he could go further, as he is in top shape after attending a month-long training camp with some of the world’s best amateurs in Cuba during April. A lot will depend on the draw and who his first round opponent will be, but he is Namibia’s best hope for success in the boxing ring.
Matheus will compete at his first Olympic Games, but having finished fifth at the African Qualifying Championships, he is not expected to make much of an impact. If he can progress past the first round, it will be a good achievement for him.
This article appeared in the July’12 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.