STATISTICS don’t lie: Zimbabwe is a world-class sporting country, in individual sport — at least.
The latest feats of long-distance runner Stephen Muzhingi, who won the Comrades Marathon in May for the second year running, and the constant rise of pugilist Tineyi Mharidzo to the apex of continental boxing strengthen Zimbabwe’s place on the world sporting map.
Sadly, in team sports, Zimbabwe remains mediocre. This is largely due to the high cost of looking after team’s administrative problems at the national board level and the mob rule associated with mass sports.
The biggest achievement by a Zimbabwean sporting team was the gold medal won by the women’s hockey team back in 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
While teams have generally underperformed, fine sportsmen and women of world-class attributes have, however, emerged from them.
Take for instance Andy Flower, who was playing in an average team. He was at one time the highest-ranked Test cricket batsman in the world, the same year he was crowned International Cricketer of the Year. The former Zimbabwe rugby captain Kennedy Tsimba,at his peak, was considered the best flyhalf in the game.
Others who come to mind are the ex-Zimbabwe football captain Peter Ndlovu, who made an immediate impact in the UK when he joined Coventry City and is the longest-serving African footballer in the English Premiership, as well as Bruce Grobbelaar, a legend at Liverpool who was a key figure between the posts during the club’s dominant years.
Below, we have drawn up a top eight list of Zimbabwean sportsmen of the last two decades who have been the world’s best in their disciplines, or in the case of team sports, the best in their positions:
AT the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Kirsty Coventry won three medals: a gold, a silver, and a bronze. In the 2008 Games in Beijing, she harvested four medals, a gold and three silvers.
Kirsty Leigh Coventry was born on 13 September, 1983 in Harare, and was educated at Dominican Convent School in the city.
She attended and swam competitively for Auburn University in Alabama, in the United States. She is now based in South Africa at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.
Nick Price is an inductee in the World Golf Hall of Fame. In the mid-1990s, Price reached number one in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Price, 53, was born in Durban, South Africa, but was raised in the Zimbabwean capital Harare where he attended Prince Edward High School.
By the mid-nineties, Price was regarded as the best player in the world, and in 1994 he won two majors back-to-back, The Open and the PGA Championship, adding to his first major, the 1992 PGA Championship. He topped the PGA Tour money list in 1993 and 1994, setting a new earnings record each time, and spent 43 weeks at number one in the Official World Golf Rankings. Price was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003.
THE elder of two Test-playing brothers, Andy Flower was for a long time Zimbabwe’s only batsman of true Test quality in all conditions. For a period of about two years from the start of 2000 he was so phenomenally consistent that he has no rival as the best player in Zimbabwe’s history.
Flower continued to take on the tough roles, moving into coaching within the England set-up, firstly as assistant to Peter Moores and then, after the very public fall-out between Moores and Kevin Pietersen, he was named interim coach for the 2009 West Indies tour. A few weeks after that trip the top job – team director – came his way.
He had two stints as Zimbabwe captain, leading them to their first Test victory against Pakistan in 1994-95, and then becoming the first Zimbabwean to lead a Test tour of England in 2000. An assured player of fast bowling since his early days as an opener, Flower matured into one of the best players of spin in the world, and on the Indian tour early in 2001 he made 540 runs for twice out.
Opposing bowlers targeted him accordingly and after a phenomenal Test against South Africa at Harare, when he made 142 and 199 not out, he suffered a rare slump. He announced his retirement from international cricket after a turbulent 2003 World Cup, which started with an unprecedented protest by Flower, and his team-mate Henry Olonga, about what they called the “death of democracy” in Zimbabwe. Flower played for Essex from 2002 until 2006, and enjoyed a season in South Australia in 2003-04.
He was joined at Essex by his brother Grant in 2005, and they became the first brothers to score first-class centuries for the county in the same innings against Lancashire that year. But injury ruled him out of the 2007 season, and when the offer came to become England’s assistant coach, he retired and took it.
But any thoughts of enjoying a few years under the wing of Peter Moores vanished in early January 2009 and less than 48 hours later he was thrust in charge of the national team.
When England crumbled for 51 in Jamaica, Flower’s calm but authoritative response impressed many and his standing improved throughout the tour. He has confronted many challenges in his career, but coaching England will rival any of them.
Cara Black has won seven singles titles and 63 women’s doubles titles. She has won all four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles and three of the four Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles. She is currently ranked World No 4 in women’s doubles, having previously been number one with American partner Liezel Huber.
Born 31 years ago in Harare, Cara has won five Grand Slam women’s doubles titles in her career: Wimbledon 2004, 2005, and 2007; Australian Open 2007; and US Open 2008. She reached the 2000 US Open doubles final with Elena Likhovtseva.
She has also won three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, two of them partnering with her brother Wayne: the 2002 French Open and the 2004 Wimbledon Championships (they reached the final of the 2004 French Open and the semifinals of the 2003 French Open and 2003 US Open); and most recently the 2008 U.S. Open with Leander Paes of India.
Stephen Muzhingi successfully defended his crown in the 2010 Comrades Marathon race, held in South Africa.
He cruised home with a time of 5: 29.
The 34-year-old, who won the same event last year after clocking 05:23:27, also became one of the few men to successfully defend this grueling race.
A member of Zimbabwe’s national athletics team, Elliot Mujaji qualified to compete at the 1998 Commonwealth Games before suffering severe burns in an electrical accident while at work. His right arm was amputated, and he remained in a coma for two months.
After recovering, he resumed training, and qualified to compete at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney.
Samson Muripo became the nation’s first black world champion, following a remarkable performance at the Kyokushin Union World Cup in Japan last July.
The 32-year-old is a Dan black belt holder.
Retired diver Evan Stewart won a gold medal in the one-metre board event at the 1994 World Championships in Rome, Italy.
He also became the first African world champion in driving.