Sport before and after Independence
By Michael Uugwanga
As we celebrate our 31st Independence Celebrations on March 21, we are going to look at how sport has played an important role in uniting Namibians and how it continues to put Namibia on the global stage.
Namibia a country with a mere population of 2.5 million people has produced icons, starting with legendary retired sprinter Frank Fredericks who broke numerous records globally and is today regarded as the best athlete to come out of Namibia.
Fredericks (53) started his career as a footballer before Independence for Black Africa Football Club in Windhoek before he decided to pursue a career in athletics notably in the 100m and 200m.
Fredericks won four silver medals at the Olympic Games.
He also won gold medals at the World Championships, World Indoor Championships, All-Africa Games and Commonwealth Games.
He is the world indoor record-holder for 200m, with a time of 19.92 seconds set in 1996.
Fredericks has broken 20 seconds for the 200m 24 times. He also holds the third-fastest non-winning time for the 200 meters. In August 1996, Fredericks ran 19.68 seconds in the Olympic final in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is also the oldest man to have broken 20 seconds for the 200m. On July 12 2002 in Rome, Fredericks won the 200m in a time of 19.99 seconds at the age of 34 years 283 days.
One athlete continuing to make headlines is marathon queen Helalia Johannes who is the only athlete, be it man or female to hold more national records, beating event the great Fredericks.
Johannes has broken 12 Namibian records in marathons to Fredericks’ nine in the track & field heat. She won a bronze medalist at the 2019 International Association of Athletics Federations in Qatar, making her the first Namibian female athlete to win a medal at the IAAF world championship.
Johannes will be the country’s top hopeful candidate for a medal at the Tokyo Summer Olympics this year.
Next in line is Harry Terminator Simon, arguably the greatest boxer to come out of Namibia, and the first Namibian boxer to win a world title, when he won the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) junior middleweight title in 1998 and held the same title until in 2001, and he went on to win the WBO middleweight title in 2002.
Simon (48) was born in Walvis Bay and is still undefeated in his professional career that started in 1994 immediately after the 1992 Summer Olympic Games that was held in Barcelona, Spain.
Then came Paulus Hitman Moses, the second Namibian boxer to win a world title, after claiming the World Boxing Association (WBA) Lightweight title in 2009 before Paulus Rock Ambunda went on to win three world titles in two different divisions, first the WBO Bantamweight title in 2013, the WBO Super-Bantamweight title in 2015 and the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) Super-Bantamweight title in 2018.
Julius ‘Blue Machine’ Indongo is to date the only Namibian boxer to be a unified champion after holding the WBA, IBO and International Boxing Federation (IBF) Lightweight titles from 2016 to 2017.
Boxer Jonas Junias Jonas will be looking at becoming the first boxer from Namibia to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Jonas was a gold medalist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and a silver medalist at the 2014 games.
The country has managed to win medals at the Paralympics Games, with the Walvis Bay-born Johanna Benson becoming the first paralympian to win gold and silver medals at the 2012 Summer Paralympics Games.
Another paralympian in Ananias Shikongo became the first male Namibian paralympian to win a gold medal in the Men 200m T11 at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games.
Shikongo also won two bronze medals in the 100m and 400m T11 heats.
One paralympian athletes that does not receive the same recognition as Benson and Shikongo is Johannes Nambala, who is the first Paralympian from Namibia to win a world champion, after he won Gold in the 400m T13 at the 2013 International Paralympics Council (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.
Nambala (29) also won two silver medals at the 2016 Rio Games, a gold medal at an IPC Athletics World Championships and another gold medal in Qatar.
Another athlete to have put Namibia on the map thanks to her accolades is Olympian trap shooter Gaby Ahrens, who was the top ranked female trap shooter for many years.
Ahrens won two African Championship Titles in 2011 and 2015 as well as several titles.
In 2010, she won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, she was the Namibian flag-bearer, the first woman of her country to receive this honor. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio she finished in ninth place, just one target off the finals.
Forgotten top lawn bowler, Douw Calitz made history in 2003 when he won the Champion of Champions title in Australia to become the first and only Namibian lawn bowler to date to win the accolade.
The sport of rugby continues to receive global attention with the country’s senior team, the Welwitschias’ qualifications to world cups, but one player who caught international recognition is former captain Jacques Burger who played professional rugby in England for Saracens in the Aviva Premiership.
There is no doubt that Namibian netball was the biggest talk in 1991 after the women senior netball side was at its first maiden World Netball Championship that was held in Australia.
Former 3000m steeplechase and current national record holder, retired runner Frank Tuihaleni Kayele is one of the few athletes to have benefited from athletics before and after independence.
Professional golfer, Joe Nawanga has challenged government to be at the forefront in order for golf in the country to grow just like football, netball, rugby and cricket.