Namibian sprinting sensation Tjipekapora Herunga has booked her ticket to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Jamaica-based Herunga rewrote the history books with an astonishing sprint in the 400-metre race at the prestigious Seniors Link Up Track Meet in Kingston, Jamaica, last weekend.
Getting out of the blocks from lane 4 with training partner, world championship 400-metre hurdles finalist and Commonwealth bronze medalist Janieve Russell in lane 5, both athletes went for broke, running shoulder to shoulder on the back stretch in a fierce battle.
However, the more experienced Russell seized the lead, coming off the curve en route to the home stretch and despite a brave attack by the Namibian, Russell won the closely contested race in a time of 51.79, leaving Herunga adrift in second place with a time of 52.03 – faster then the required entry standard of 52.20.
Herunga recorded 51.51 during last year’s All Africa Games in Congo, Brazzaville, claiming a bronze medal in the 400m sprint. Unfortunately, that achievement proved futile, as the Namibia Olympic Committee (NNOC) claimed the continental multi-sports games did not serve as Olympic qualifiers.
“I’m quite satisfied with the time, as it shows I’m slowly but surely getting there. It’s my second 400-metre for the season. In the first one I recorded 52.71 and now 52.03. Normally I start my season with 53,” enthused the gorgeous muscular sprinter after the race.
Herunga was quick out of the starting blocks, saying she is not getting carried away by her achievement, as she was never in any doubt that she could make the qualifying standard.
“I’m happy it’s out of the way. The coach and I have set high standards, so I still have to run much faster and be ready come Rio, because that’s were it matters the most. Last time in London I made it to the semifinals, which allowed me to dream and want to be in the finals.”
The highly-rated sprinter acknowledged the fact that it would not be an easy task, but believes if she remains injury-free, she will be able to give her very best. Herunga’s compatriot, new kid on the block Francis Uatema, won the 400m men’s heat 5 in a season best time of 48.18.
The 20-year old from Walvis Bay, who became the 2015 national senior 400m champion at the tender age of 19, seems to enjoy a newfound strength as he continues to improve tremendously and could very well become a force to be reckoned with in international athletics.
Coach Letu Hamhola said Herunga competed well, as the time was her personal best on Jamaican soil, which places her 8th overall in the world rankings. Hamhola believes there is room for improvement.
“She can still get better with more training and she has really been working very hard, so our set targets for the year are much higher than just the qualification standard,” said the dreadlocked mentor.
Hamhola, himself a formidable former sprinter in his heyday, added that the immediate goal is to work hard and achieve more qualifications for Rio.
“We’re facing a few serious challenges, as only Herunga and Uatema were 100% fit today. Mberihonga Kandovazu (400m) and Gilbert Hainuca (100m) could not finish their races properly, while the rest of the Namibian foreign legion are all out injured, but we hope to get them fit quickly.”
Hamhola hopes the Namibian athletes can compete in other races in Europe should funds be available: “The last time we competed against the finest athletes in the world was in 2013. Otherwise, all the hard work and sacrifices will be for nothing.”