When Namibia entered a new era to take part in international sport, one of the most successful new ‘territories’ for a while was athletics with two silver medals from their team of six rookie athletes, but that was all down to one man, going by the name of Frank Fredericks.
Just after independence in 1990, Namibia was allowed to take part in the World Athletics Championships in Tokyo a year later – but for Michael Johnson in the men’s 200m they could have had a golden start.
So it was that very same year that Fredericks was already amongst the favourites for the half lap, although Johnson was, as the fastest man in the world for the previous two seasons, still going to be the man to beat. Johnson though had contracted food poisoning two weeks prior to the games and in his weakened state only managed to come 6th in this semi-final.
With Johnson out of the final, Fredericks lined up with the other two Americans, two Nigerians, two Brits and Robson da Silva from Brazil. Michael Marsh of the USA had won the fastest semifinal in 20.08, while Fredericks had won the other but the Namibian had run the fastest time so far in qualifying at 20.02 in his quarterfinal. It looked like a time of under 20 seconds would be required by one of them to take the coveted gold medal.
In the end, Marsh ran only 20.01 but it was 0.17 seconds faster than the Namibian who had to settle for silver again. Five days earlier he had run 10.02 in the 100m final, only to lose out to Britain’s Linford Christie who ran 9.96.
Four years later, Fredericks was back on track again in Atlanta to take home the same two silver medals on his second attempt in the Olympics. Fredericks was not only a gifted sprinter and an academic achiever – he was also a prolific goal poacher with Namibian champions Black Africa Football Club.
In our final edition of Inside the Aged for 2013, we bring to you the reader tales about the athletic exploits of this great son of the soil as he reflects on his life and why he chose athletics above the beautiful game of football.
WINDHOEK – Frank Fredericks is arguably Namibia’s most celebrated athlete but the youngster indeed made his name on the football pitch as he tormented seasoned defenders with his mazy runs, amazing first touch and a nose for goal while featuring for boyhood team Black Africa in the 80’s.
Up to this day, his name is held in the highest esteem in Namibia and neighbouring South Africa as can be attested by his goals that lifted South West Africa (SWA) to its second win in the biannual South African Provincial Impala Cup in South Africa in 1987.
SWA previously won the prestigious Cup in Johannesburg in 1974 and again in 1986 on home soil at the old Katutura stadium.
Frank is not only remembered for his playing days but as an ambassador for Namibian sports.
Frank was born in Windhoek on 2 October 1967 and his genes dictated that he would be an athlete as his mother Aunt Ricky was a mean tennis player and prolific netballer during her younger days.
A product of St Andrew’s Primary School in Khomasdal, Frank was exposed to the beautiful game at a an early age playing alongside the likes of Donkey Madjiet at school level as the pair represented the school Under-14’s with flying colours in the popular primary schools tournament in the central region.
Although he also did athletics, Frank admits that he was just an average sprinter who always had to settle for second best. “To be quite honest, I was not really that good in athletics but I was very competitive though not the best,” reveals Frank with a wry smile on his baby face.
It was not long before he resolved to get out of the notorious Katutura residential area. “I realized the dangers of living in the township and had three choices to either go to Drimopsis, Goas or Dobra but eventually settled for the latter. In fact, I was very lucky to be at Dobra because the school had good sports structures and conducive facilities. Truly speaking, my development in football took a dramatic turn as can be attested by my selection for the South West Africa Under-13 football team.
Frank went on to represent his native land at all youth levels up to the Under-20s playing in cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria. He made his senior debut for Black Africa at the tender age of 17 while still a Grade 9 pupil at Concordia College in Windhoek.
“My boyhood desire was to play for Young Ones because most of my old school buddies were playing for them, but I was told in no uncertain terms that charity begins at home and as they say, the rest is history.”
It was while at Concordia Secondary School that Frank started to develop a keen interest in athletics. “I picked up interesting tales among the students that athletics had the great potential to offer decent academic opportunities through scholarships and this is when I decided to take athletics more seriously.”
Upon completing matric, he received several job offers from TCL, CDM and Rössing but he chose Rössing. “The primary reason why I gave Rössing the nod was simply because a good chunk of my team mates at Black Africa were employed by Rössing, so it was much easier for me to travel back with them to Windhoek for league matches.”
Frank represented Rössing with flying colours in both the football and athletics disciplines in the popular Inter Mines Games. He also represented the South West Africa football team where he formed a deadly combination with Foresta Nicodemus, Dawid Snewe and Juku Tjazuko.
As stated earlier, Frank was not just your ordinary footballer around the corner – he was a highly gifted striker with amazing speed, excellent ball control and astonishing shooting ability with both feet. How difficult was it for Frank to give up the beautiful game in favour of athletics?
“It was an easy decision. Look in football you will always find people questioning your ability if you are not playing for their favourite team with phrases such as, ‘Ag, you are not that good and would not have been in the squad had it not been for your speed.’ In athletics, I knew that if crossed the line first nobody could question my ability and I have no regrets about my decision.”
“Having the basic education allowed me to make informed decisions in my life and I’m grateful that I managed to balance education with my sporting career. I’m also thankful to the valued advice I always received from my late mentor, Danny Tjongarero.”
Frank finally bade goodbye to the beautiful game of football to concentrate fulltime on athletics and it took him just six months before he earned Springbok colours. “You see, there was this guy going by the name of Gerhard Barnard, he was a great sprinter and I made a promise to myself that I could take him on at his own game.”
Frank became the fastest athlete in South Africa with a personal best time of 10.30 and his exploits on the athletics track earned him a scholarship from Rössing Uranium. His next stop was the Brigham Young University (BYU) Provo, (USA) where he obtained a Bachelor of Computer Science before completing his MBA at the same institution.
“It was a difficult adjustment at first, because it was the very first time I was exposed to weightlifting and other advanced training methods. I found myself in the company of talented sprinters such as Michael Johnson and Leroy Burrell. Unfortunately, I could not compete in major events because I was travelling on a South African passport and the country was banned as a result of the apartheid system.”
Frank had a dream to represent his native land in the Olympics after watching the Olympic Games on the telly in 1988. He would go on to claim back-to-back double silver medals at the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics in 1992 and 1996 respectively. He also won the 200m sprints at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in 1993, and won silver in the IAAF World Cup in London, Great Britain the following year.
Frank won double gold medals in the 100m and 200m at his first attempt in the All Africa Games in Cairo, 1991, and also won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Greater Manchester in 2002. Frank is arguably the most decorated athlete on the African continent with several world records (indoor and outdoor) under his belt during an illustrious athletics career that took him to all corners of the globe.
He currently serves on several international sports bodies that includes Council Member of the Confederation of African Athletics, Member of the of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), Athletics Commission, Board Member of the World Academy of Sport, Executive Member of the Namibia Olympic Committee and is the Chairperson of the Namibia Olympians Association.
By Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa