ON a superb day for Namibian cycling at the African Mountain Bike Championships on Saturday, Alex Miller and Michelle Vorster gave brilliant performances to clinch two places for Namibia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Although the final Olympic placements will only be decided next year after completion of the mountain bike world series, Namibia in finishing as the second country behind South Africa in both the men and women's elite races, secured their tickets to Tokyo.
The IJG Trails at Farm Windhoek was packed out by spectators and they were not disappointed as Miller gave a superb performance in the Elite Men's category.
Miller, who is still only 18 years old, was supposed to ride in the Men's u23 category, but because Namibia's senior cyclist Tristan de Lange withdrew due to illness, Miller was allowed to compete in the Elite Men's category, to give Namibia a chance to qualify for the Olympics.
He started off on the fourth row in about 20th position, but soon worked his way up the field and by the end of the first lap had moved up to sixth position overall.
With the local fans roaring him on, Miller continued to close the gap on the front runners and by the third lap he was right behind the fourth-placed Stuart Marais of South Africa.
By the fifth lap Miller had passed Marais as well as another South African, Matthew Beers to move up to third position and then pulled away over the final two laps to win the bronze medal in a total time of 1:24:35.
South Africa's Alan Hatherly led from the start to win the gold medal in 1:20:27, while another South African Philip Buys came second in 1:21:24.
Miller was followed by Marais (1:26:34) and Beers (1:27:09), while Namibia's Xavier Papo finished sixth overall in 1:28:12.
Miller was elated with his performance.
"I'm super happy to come third, because I had to upgrade to the elite category while I'm actually still first year under 23. I was really hoping to get a top five place, but then the race played out really well and the support I had was absolutely amazing. The track also suited me very well and in the end I was super happy to finish third," he said.
He said he had achieved his goal of gaining a place for Namibia at the Olympic Games.
"That was the main goal. Managing a podium was secondary, but I managed both today so I'm really happy," he said.
"My performance gives me a lot of confidence. It's always nice to compare myself with a world class rider like Alan and it's an honour to ride against him," he added.
In the Elite Women's category, South Africa's Mariske Strauss dominated from start to finish to win the six-lap event in one hour 23 minutes 29 seconds.
Compatriot Cherie Redecker finished second exactly two minutes behind, while another South African Candice Lill finished third in 1:26:33.
Vorster pushed hard over the final two laps and closed the gap on Lill, but eventually had to settle for fourth place in 1:27:06.
"Mariske made it very hard from the start and I must say I suffered a bit on the first three laps, but then my legs came back and I almost managed to catch Candice on the last three laps. But I'm happy with the fourth place, it was good racing and a perfect track and I must say this is the best African Champs that Ive done, so Id like to thank everyone involved," she said.
"The Olympic qualification is not finalised yet, but we are one step closer and the hard hard work starts now. I'm planning to do the World Championships in Switzerland, but for now I'll take a week off and recover," she added.
The results are attached.
African MTB Championships results