23 Aug 2021
By Brigitte Weidlich
After 25 years, Namibia has finally won a medal again at the Olympic Games and the whole nation is happy about the 200m run by Christine Mboma, who is only 18 years old. Her teammate Beatrice Masilingi, also 18, ran her personal best time in the 200m final in Tokyo and came in sixth. A fairy tale came true: two African teenagers who grew up in villages in rural Namibia, had catapulted themselves to the top of the sporting world at a breathtaking pace.
Olympic fever in Namibia
With the start of the Olympic Games, Namibians quickly turned into Olympic “experts”. Within a few days, the Namibian media had published numerous reports on all media platforms. After all, eleven athletes had qualified for Tokyo.
The whole nation cheered when the exciting 200m final could be followed live on television and on social media. The digital jubilations were boundless when the two, now lovingly named "golden girls" faced the photographers and the audience with a modest smile after the impressive finish - the Namibian flag draped over their shoulders. An Olympic medal on President Hage Geingob's 80th birthday - there couldn't have been a nicer gift.
The spontaneous congratulations via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Telegram and the like were overwhelming. President Geingob immediately tweeted his congratulations, and local companies offered sponsorships. Namibians from all walks of life spoke proudly of their Olympic medal.
“Christine Mboma has united our nation; we have all won,” wrote a Namibian on Facebook, “thanks also to the coach Henk Botha. Who would have thought about Namibia's independence in 1990, that the hope
that 31 years later no matter what section of the population you come from, would come true in Tokyo."
Both sprinters are still pupils and have been attending a private school in Grootfontein as scholarship-holders, for about two years, with a focus on agricultural training.
A big Namibian welcome
The reception organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Sports Commission at Hosea-Kutako International Airport near Windhoek on August 10th was "heroic", albeit with a limited number of fans due to Covid-19 regulations. A dance group from the Kavango region also attended with drummers, the police brass band played and several ministers made speeches.
The athletes were presented with flowers and gifts. A car parade with the Olympic team followed through Windhoek’s business centre along the main road, driving as far as Katutura. The obligatory press conference followed and at 5:30 pm it was suddenly announced: “Reception and dinner in the Office of the President with the Head of State!” President Geingob was beaming, as Mboma showed him the silver medal.
The very next day Botha and the two sprinters flew to Grootfontein thanks to a privately arranged flight. Officers of the armed forces and the police saluted them and accompanied the guests of honour to the Mayor's office, where there was a small reception followed by a car parade through the town. A quick visit to their schoolmates followed and afterwards they returned to Windhoek. On August 14th Mboma and Masilingi flew to Nairobi for the U20 World Championships.
Support through sponsorships
In the meantime, some state-owned companies as well as private sector businesses have come with many sponsorship offers for Mboma and Masilingi. The Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture jointly drafted a notice with the sports commission requesting to send them the offers so that a committee could administer the sponsorships and thereby avoid overlaps. The two runners would then each receive advice on the way forward.
Mboma and Masilingi now each have an international advertising contract, their further education is financially secure for the time being and the Rundu municipality wants to give each of them a residential property. The municipality also offered to build a house for the families of the two athletes, in their respective villages.
Mboma and Masilingi were originally supposed to compete in the 400m discipline, but then came the shock at the beginning of July: what was supposed to be a routine test for the qualification brought the surprising result: the natural testosterone levels of the two girls were too high! What now? Disappointment and indignation spread in Namibia.
Trainer Botha, who is also the fatherly mentor of the two teenagers, consulted with the sports commission and the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture. There was no giving up. "We are rescheduling, the girls are now registered for the 200m race, there are no testosterone limits," said the Ministry.
At government level, Namibia had immediately announced that it would challenge the testosterone regulations.
The Namibian sprinters had to adjust their training for the 200m discipline in just less than three weeks, with outstanding success. Christine Mboma made sports history as the youngest Namibian Olympian in the country to win a medal as the first woman.
However, let it be mentioned here that Namibia’s Johanna Benson made history at the Paralympics Games in 2012 in London, as she won the first ever gold medal for Namibia. She won gold in the 200m race and silver in the 100m run.
From the Okavango to Tokyo
Christine Mboma was born in a small village about 120km east of Rundu in the Kavango-East region. She is the eldest of three daughters. The father left the family when she was a toddler, the mother was physically disabled and died during childbirth. Mboma was then 13 years old. She grew up in the homestead of her grandfather, who is now 81 years old.
When she moved to secondary school in Rundu after completing primary grades at her village school, her athletic talent was discovered at school sports events. She participated in regional competitions and ran barefoot. In 2019, Henk Botha spotted her and, after consultation with her family, offered her a scholarship at the private school in Grootfontein, where he is also a sports trainer.
Beatrice Masilingi originally comes from the Zambezi region, but grew up with her grandmother in Rundu in Kavango-East, who started taking care of her shortly after she was born. Beatrice also took part in athletics events and always ran barefoot. In 2018 she received her first sports shoes as a gift. Botha noticed her talent at a school sports championship in March 2019 and offered Beatrice a scholarship to the same private school in Grootfontein as Christine.
Wise words from Olympic legend Frank Fredericks
"Silver in Tokyo is a great success," said Namibia's first Olympian Frank Fredericks in an interview with the Namibian News Agency (Nampa). "Hopefully it won't be another 25 years before Namibia wins the next medals," he said. Fredericks also offered good advice for Mboma and Masilingi. "They would do well to carefully weigh up all sponsorships and contracts and to sensibly handle possible income."
Namibia was represented at the Olympics for the first time in 1992. Frank Fredericks was the only athlete to qualify at the time. In Barcelona in 1992, he won the silver medal in the 100m and 200m sprinting event. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, he again won double silver in the 100m and 200m sprints.
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