Namibia: Mboma, Masilingi to Battle American, Jamaican Sprint Queens At Tokyo Games

AFTER being struck with a cruel blow barring them from competing in their preferred 400-metre event, Namibia's golden girls, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, will have to turn to the 200 metres for medals at the Tokyo Olympics that start today.

They will, however, find the hunt much harder in that event, with a plethora of Jamaican and American sprint queens expected to dominate.

The two Namibians took Europe by storm recently, when they dominated top class international fields. Masilingi won two events in Poland and Switzerland, and came third in Stockholm in a new Namibian 200m record of 22,65 seconds, while Mboma remained unbeaten in three events, setting the world's fastest 400m time of 48,54 seconds in Poland in the process.

That was also the seventh fastest time in history and would have made her a strong contender for gold, with Masilingi, who set the world's third fastest time of 49,53, but both Namibians were removed from the 400 metres by World Athletics, after their testosterone levels were found to be too high.

They are, however, still allowed to participate in the 200m but their dominance in this distance has not been overwhelming and they will find the competition for glory tougher.

Masilingi's Stockholm time was the 34th fastest in the world this year, and Mboma's 22,67 in Poland the 35th fastest time, while a host of other international stars like Gabrielle Thomas of the United States, who set the world's leading time of 21,61, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson, Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Allyson Felix are all ahead of them.

At 18, the Namibians are, however, still very young and can only improve, and the world's top stars have certainly taken notice of them.

The Tokyo Games finally get underway a year later today in bizarre circumstances when the opening ceremony will be held in a largely empty stadium. Only 1 000 dignitaries and only 6 000 of the 11 000 athletes will be at the 68 000-seat Olympic Stadium for the opening, amidst tight security measures aimed at containing the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an apprehensive Japanese public largely opposed to the Games.

Covid-19 has already struck, after reports that three members of South Africa's football team had tested positive in Tokyo earlier this week, while other athletes could not even make it to the Games.

Namibian cyclist Dan Craven was one of them, having tested positive a week ago, and shattering his dreams of participating at a third successive Games, while also putting paid to four years of painstaking preparation and single-minded dedication.

Tristan de Lange was hastily brought in as Craven's replacement and whisked off to Tokyo on Sunday and will now line up against the world's top cyclists when the road race gets underway tomorrow morning.

For the 24-year-old De Lange it will be a dream come true after his disappointment of losing out to Alex Miller for Namibia's mountain bike spot, but for him it will be more about gaining experience as he is not expected to be a medal contender.

Team Namibia, though, have other athletes who might have a realistic chance to end a medal drought of 25 years, stretching back to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when sprint legend Frank Fredericks won two silver medals.

Fredericks has warmed up to Namibia's current team of 11 athletes, posting on social media recently that he expects them to win four medals, and while that might be a bit hopeful, the nation is certainly abuzz and expectant after some brilliant recent performances.

One athlete who stands a good chance of a medal is marathon athlete Helalia Johannes. She has the pedigree and big match temperament which she already displayed when she won the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

Besides that, last year she set the world's seventh fastest time of 2:19:52 at the Valencia Marathon, and along with several athletes from the African powerhouses Kenya and Ethiopia, will be a strong contender in the women's marathon on 7 August.

Boxer Jonas Junias Jonas also has the pedigree, as well as unfinished business, after his traumatic experience at the 2016 Olympic Games when he was accused of sexual molestation by a cleaner at the athletes village and was arrested. He too, went on to win a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and after once again winning gold at a warm-up event in Ukraine in June, is in top shape and ready to deliver.

Jonas will compete in the lightweight category which gets underway with the first round heats on Sunday. Namibia's other athletes might not be strong medal contenders, but one can be sure they will give it their all to make the nation proud.

They include cyclist Vera Looser who will compete in the women's road race on Sunday; mountain bike riders Alex Miller and Michelle Vorster who will compete next Monday and Tuesday, respectively; rower Maike Diekmann, who already starts competing in the first round heats today; marathon athlete Rainhold Tomas, who competes on 8 August, and marathon swimmer Phillip Seidler, who will be in action on 5 August.

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