FOR any Olympian to win gold at the Paralympics or Olympics is an extraordinary sporting achievement.
On Wednesday, Namibian sporting history was re-written when the sensational Johanna Benson won the first ever Paralympic gold medal in our history. What makes this victory even sweeter is the fact the 22-year-old sprinter had already won a silver medal over the weekend, the first time a Namibian female Olympian has ever won a medal at the Paralympics. Our performance in recent Paralympics and Olympics history – of course with the exception of the 2012 Paralympics – has largely been run-of-the-mill.
The nation had resigned itself to merely making up numbers and did not feature at all in any of the medal tables for gold, silver and bronze medallions. The first time we laid our hands on any medal was 22 years ago when Frank Fredericks captivated the world with his blistering speed. Running in the 100 metres and 200 metres, he won four silver medals at the Olympic Games (two in 1992 and two in 1996), making him Namibia’s first Olympic medalist. He also won gold medals at the World Championships, World Indoor Championships, All-Africa Games and Commonwealth Games. Fredericks has broken 20 seconds for the 200 metres 24 times. The only other man to have done this is Usain Bolt.
But Johanna Benson’s scooping gold at the 2012 London Paralympics even surpasses Fredericks’s achievements because this is the first time ever that a Namibian female has won an Olympic gold medal. As a nation, we should honour this woman whose superlative effort at this coveted global sporting showpiece puts Namibia on the world map of achievers. When the Paralympians arrive we should turn out en-masse at Hosea Kutako International Airport to toast this wonder-woman whose accomplishment will go down as one of our greatest sporting achievements. When our Paralympians arrive from London this should be Johanna Benson’s hour of glory. She overcame her handicap to win a coveted medal that evaded even our able-bodied team of Olympians – none of them managed to win even a bronze medal. Her glory belongs to each and every one of us, and her victory belongs to each and every one of us. Let us therefore rejoice and rally behind this trailblazer.
Sport, be it athletics, soccer, rugby, swimming or boxing, is a universal language that unifies all-and-sundry and it removes political, cultural and religious barriers. This should be a telling lesson to our sports administrators not to discriminate when it comes to supporting able bodied and differently-abled athletes. Moreover, may it be a lesson for us all that although sports administrators and others are important, it is the athletes who win medals and not the officials.
We applaud the government for providing incentives to our athletes, because our sporting heroes just like our political heroes deserve recognition and honour. We should be proud that despite the fact we only became independent 22 years ago we have so far won 6 medals at the Olympics and Paralympics, which is a significant sporting achievement. Still on the sporting front, our boxers have competed against and beat the best there is in the world, the likes of Harry “The Terminator” Simon and Paulus “The Hitman” Moses. Benson’s victory just like the conquests recorded by the iconic Frank Fredericks, and others will inspire generations of future Olympians and Paralympians.
And it is not only through the sheer superhuman efforts of their athletes that countries such as United States of America, People’s Republic of China, Australia, Great Britain, Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea have always topped the medals table at these games. The point we are making is that these countries usually have record hauls of gold, silver and bronze because they plan far ahead of time and they invest heavily in the preparation of their athletes in search of national honours and glory - they do not go to sleep immediately after the Olympic Games. Hats off to this differently-abled, courageous, very able and inspirational Namibian sprinter!