Namibia’s sprint hero marred by scandal
In Namibia, nobody is more admired than Frankie Fredericks.
Long since retired from athletics, he remains a national hero in the sparsely-populated country in south-west Africa that has less than 2.5 million inhabitants.
Fredericks won Namibia’s first — and only — Olympic medals when securing silver in the 100 metres and 200 metres in both Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.
His Barcelona medals came just two years after Namibia’s independence from apartheid South Africa, putting the young country on the map and triggering wild celebrations back home.
Fredericks also won a 200m gold in the 1993 World Championships, before retiring in 2004 to pursue a career in business and sports administration that has now landed him in controversy.
On Tuesday, he quit as head of the commission monitoring candidates for the 2024 Olympics amid a corruption scandal.
Fredericks, 49, has denied any wrongdoing in accepting nearly US$300,000 (RM1.35 million) on the day that Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Olympics.
The softly-spoken sprinter grew up in Katutura, a poor part of Namibia’s small, low-key capital Windhoek.
He started running seriously with local clubs, played highstandard football, and was awarded a scholarship to attend Brigham Young University in the United States in 1987.
“The mood in the country after he won the first Olympic medals was absolute hysteria,” veteran sports journalist Conrad Angula, who knew Fredericks well during his golden days, said.
“People were celebrating in their homes and the streets. Cars were hooting and children and adults were screaming Frankie’s name.
“Despite what he achieved in the world he remained loyal to Namibia. He received lucrative offers to take up other nationalities.”
For Fredericks, the role as national icon became easier to bear as his career progressed.
“I used to feel a lot of pressure to win for the sake of my country but it is not the case anymore,” he said in 1998.
“I was running for my country and my people, but now, I think they accept whatever I achieve.”
After retiring, Fredericks went on join athletic bodies such as IAAF’s athletes’ commission, the Namibian National Olympic Committee executive committee and the athlete committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
He also ventured into business deals and real estate investment.
Fredericks is part of a group of politically well-connected businessmen in Namibia who own the Eros Valley Consortium.
In 2012, the consortium bought a large block of land east of Windhoek in a project estimated to be worth around US$80 million.
Fredericks and his partners initially wanted to construct hundreds of elite apartments and a golf course, but the plan has stalled.
He also runs a charity organisation giving scholarships to young athletes.
It was launched in 1999 by Namibian President Hage Geingob, the country’s first prime minister.
“I am shocked (about the corruption allegation),” said Angula.
“He had a chance to cheat as an athlete but he never did. He told me he didn’t want to put Namibia, his family and his own reputation into disrepute.
“He remains Namibia’s first great athlete and he stands tall as a respectable son of the soil.”
Frankie Fredericks won Namibia’s first and only Olympic medals in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.