Namibia’s sprint hero marred by scan­dal

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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.”

AFP PIC

Frankie Fredericks won Namibia’s first and only Olympic medals in Barcelona in 1992 and At­lanta in 1996.

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