Windhoek – Up until this past week, the last time a Namibian stood on the podium at the Olympic Games was in 1996, and that athlete was the iconic Frankie Fredericks.
It has taken a teenage girl to end that drought, and Christine Mboma is naturally the toast of Namibia following her silver medal placing in the 200m at the Tokyo Games.
And that she and compatriot Beatrice Masilingi – both aged 18 – made it to the final after a sports-science-and-politics storm exploded around them and saw them being banned from their preferred 400m race made the achievement all the more remarkable.
In the final, the two Namibians lined up at the starting blocks with track legends like Elaine Thompson–Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Gabrielle Thomas. And they were unshaken.
“I simply came here to learn and was not expecting a medal but I am happy with my achievements,” an overwhelmed Mboma told the media after the silver medal effort.
Namibian President Hage Geingob was effusive.
“Wow, Silver for Christine Mboma! I wish to congratulate Christine for her brilliant achievement during the 200m Finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As a country, we are extremely proud. An outstanding ambassador of our country, you have flown the Namibian flag very high.
“Beatrice Masilingi, you have done us proud, you put up a brave performance in the 200m Finals at the Olympics. Even if you didn’t walk away with a medal, the future is bright for you. Coach Henk Botha, thank you for nurturing these exceptional talents,” said President Geingob on social media.
Dual gold medallist Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, who finished fourth in the 200m, was also magnanimous in her praise of the Namibian stars.
A seven-time Olympic gold medallist and nine-time World Champion, Fraser-Pryce said the pair deserved their chance at glory.
“Listen, the ladies compete in this event, we can talk about it all we want but I don’t think that is an excuse for anybody. They were denied in the specific event they wanted to run and they were given another event and they were still excellent in that event.
“That is something that if any other athletes (are) having issues, they will have to take that up with the IOC because rules are rules. I did not go in the race thinking that something was wrong with anybody in the race. It is us all wanting for a chance for Olympic glory.
“If I am 19 and somebody is telling me I can’t run in that event I think it might have impacted them to then still come out here … in those circumstances,” Fraser-Pryce said.
Mboma’s silver medal time of 21.81s shattered the Under-20 world record set and broken twice by herself earlier in the semi-finals in Tokyo, and she also became the first woman to ever win a medal for Namibia at the Olympics.
She also made history by becoming the youngest woman to win an individual flat sprint medal in 49 years, and her winning time was a new Namibian and African record in the women’s 200m.
Masilingi’s time of 22.28s was a new personal best.
The two 18-year-olds ran four of the five fastest 400m times in the world this year.
There are other similarities between the two athletes besides just their age.
They both grew up in tough conditions in northeast Namibia, and both are unassuming despite their immense talent and being at the centre of global media attention for their exploits on the track this year.