Four decades of punching above our weight

SCORING a major sporting success following the formation of a democratic government, as Zimbabwe did at the Olympic Games in 1980, was perhaps in a minor way similar to South Africa lifting the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 1995, with the revered Nelson Mandela handing over the William Webb Ellis Trophy to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park in June that year

Enock Muchinjo

But just three months after racist Rhodesia had transformed into democratic Zimbabwe under black majority rule, the success of the country’s women field hockey team, which romped home to an unexpected gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, was probably lost in the euphoria of wild celebrations across the country over the landmark political development that gave birth to our new nation. But whereas Moscow 1980 was celebrated by a small and disillusioned minority at a time of great change and transition in this country, you just needed to be around 24 years later when Zimbabwe returned to the Olympics medal podium, to realise the sheer power of sporting accomplishment in any country.

Harare-born swimmer Kirsty Coventry (pictured) swivelled to three medals at the Athens Games in 2004 — gold, silver and bronze — a heroic sporting endeavour that catapulted her to instant stardom across the nation and made her one of the country’s most recognised and revered figures. Today, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, Africa’s greatest Olympian with a total of seven medals under her belt, is Zimbabwe’s Sports minister — the biggest recognition ever given to a sportsperson in this country.

Her lofty standing in Zimbabwe is no mean achievement when you consider the fact that while conquering the Olympics as an African makes her outstandingly unique — she just missed by one medal to edge ahead of Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi as the iconic global event’s leading female individual medalist in swimming — Coventry is not the only person from this country to dominate on the world stage since 1980.

There has been quite a lot to celebrate, and a handful of countries on the continent even come close.Cara Black, a former number one ranked women’s doubles player in the WTA rankings and 10-time Grand Slam titles winner in both women’s doubles and mixed doubles; Byron Black, a Zimbabwe Davis Cup team stalwart and men’s doubles French Open winner; Nick Price, former world number one golfer and three-time major championships winner and World Golf Hall of Fame inductee; Andy Flower, soaring like an eagle to become Test cricket’s number one batsman in 2001; Stephen Muzhingi, Comrades Marathon winner on three consecutive occasions.

The list can go on. But the more you try to stretch it, the greater the risk of reducing to triviality the genuine world-class feats mentioned here.

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