Namibia: Race for Olympic Qualifying Spots Hots Up

ONLY four Namibian athletes have qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games so far, but several more still have a chance of making the cut before the quadrennial sporting showpiece starts on 24 July.

The only athletes who have definitely qualified so far are marathon runner Helalia Johannes and rower Maike Diekmann.

Johannes qualified when she won the Nagoya Marathon in Japan in March last year in a new Namibian record time of 2:22:25, which was well below the Olympics qualifying time of 2:29:30, while Diekmann qualified when she won a gold medal at the African Olympic Qualification Regatta in Tunisia in October.

Besides them, Namibia has also won two cycling spots, while the chances are good that this will eventually become four cycling spots.

At the Africa Cycling Championships in Ethiopia in March last year, Dan Craven won Namibia a spot at the Olympics when he finished eighth overall, while Namibia was the fourth country over the line. With the countries ahead of him - Eritrea, Algeria and South Africa - already having qualified amongst the top 50 countries in the world, Namibia booked a place at the Olympics as the first African country outside the top 50.

Although Craven won the spot for Namibia, the Namibia Cycling Federation now still has to decide which cyclist to send to Tokyo and to this end several qualifying races are being held in Namibia and South Africa over the next few weeks.

Craven has experience on his side, having raced internationally for many years, while also having competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but he will face strong competition from several exciting up-and-coming cyclists, including Alex Miller, Martin Freyer, Drikus Coetzee, Gerhard Mans and Xavier Papo.

Vera Adrian won Namibia a place in the Women's Cycling Road Race, by finishing amongst the world's top ranked 100 cyclists at the end of last year, and it is virtually certain that she will be selected for Namibia.

Besides the two road race spots, Namibia will most probably also get two mountain bike spots after Alex Miller and Michelle Vorster won Namibia spots as the second nation behind South Africa at the African MTB Championships last year.

According to the secretary general of the Namibian Olympic Committee, Joan Smit, the International Cycling Federation, however, still has to confirm these spots.

"The UCI will only finalise their Olympic spots when they complete their qualifying events in May, so we will have to wait till then, but the chances look good that we will get two more mountain bike spots," she said.

"Vera Adrian is our best road cyclist so we will select her for the road race, while Michelle Vorster is our top mountain bike rider and she will be selected for that once it is confirmed," she added.

Several qualifying races must still be held for the men's mountain bike spot where Miller and Tristan de Lange are the main contenders. Miller won Namibia's qualifying place (awaiting confirmation) with his bronze medal at the 2019 African MTB Championships in April last year, but De Lange won two gold medals at the All Africa Games in Morocco five months later and a terrific battle in qualifying events over the next few weeks between these two riders can be expected.

According to Smit, the NNOC will be sending two more promising athletes out to compete in international events in the hope that they can still qualify.

They are marathon runner Rainhold Thomas, who came 17th at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in a time of 2:14:38, which is still well off the Olympic qualifying time of 2:11,30; and the 16-year-old Beatrice Masilingi who exploded onto the scene last year when she won two gold medals at the Southern African Senior Championships in Mauritius.

Her personal best times of 23,76 seconds for the 200m and 53,73 for the 400m are, however, still well off the Olympic qualifying times of 22,82 and 51,35 respectively.

In boxing, eight pugilists have registered to represent Namibia at the final African qualifying event which starts in Dakar, Senegal on 17 February, but by yesterday it was still not certain whether they will all go.

"Five of the boxers are struggling to raise the finances to go so they might not make it, but three of them - Jonas Junias Jonas, Tryagain Ndevelo and Nestor Thomas - are on Olympic Solidarity scholarships and they will definitely be there," she said.

The NNOC will also send two Namibian swimmers, Alexander Skinner and Philip Seidler to qualifying events over the next few months in the hope that they can still qualify. Long distance swimmer Seidler will compete in an Open Water event in Japan in May, while 100m freestyle specialist Skinner will try to qualify at the South African Championships in April.

One wrestler, Romeo Goliath, also has a chance to qualify. He is currently in Algeria competing at a pre-qualifying event, and depending on how he does there, he could also go to the African qualifiers in Morocco later this month.

According to Smit, the Namibia Karate Union will also send some athletes to the final Olympics qualifier in Paris in May in the hope of booking a spot or two for Namibia. She, however, stressed that athletes will have to qualify, since the NNOC will not allocate any 'wild cards' to Namibian athletes.

"We don't want to just participate, we want to compete, because our nation has been waiting a very long time for an Olympic medal," she said.

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