Namibian short sprinters on Saturday took part in the sacred Penn Relays in Philadelphia, USA, which are the world’s oldest relays stretching back over 112 years.
Participants ranged from the best schools to best colleges and national teams from around the world, who all converged on the spacious Franklin Field Stadium in Philadelphia, vying for top honours in the three-day event.
More than 40,000 people witnessed some of the finest Olympic and World champions in track and field, notably the battle the USA vs The World Competition.
The gathering has become a major attraction, providing fans the opportunity to watch relay heavyweights USA and Jamaica continue their rivalry in a carnival atmosphere.
Despite the controversy over her Olympic qualification that has dominated newspaper headlines in recent weeks, Namibian Tjipee Herunga joined compatriots Globine Mayova, Lilanne Klaasman, Mberihonga Kandovazu, Keshia Kalomo, Hitjivirue Kaanjuka, Jesse Uri-Khob, Gilbert Hainuca, Adiel van Wyk and Francis Uatema to compete against the world’s best.
Members of the Namibian Athletics Development Programme, based in Kingston, Jamaica competed in the men’s 4x100m, 4x200m and women 4x400m.
Already owning the men’s 4x100m, 4x200m, and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m national records in their native land and with the men’s 4x100m team being the incumbent All Africa Games silver medalists, the Namibians were up for it.
This year’s carnival saw Namibia, USA, Jamaica, Nigeria, Japan, Brazil, St Kitts & Nevis, Ghana and Haiti grill each other for top honors.
Sprinter Gilbert Hainuca led the Namibian onslaught in the 4x100m relay team, having just returned to the track after more than a month nursing a niggling injury. Hainuca led the charge in a strong line-up that included Kaanjuka and Uatema, with Van Wyk anchoring the team in the home stretch.
In a strong line-up featuring the USA Red team of Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Isiah Young, the Namibians were always going to find the going tough but the day belonged to the youthful Jamaican quartet of Jermaine Hamilton, Julian Forte, Rasheed Dwyer and Oshane Bailey who stole the show by winning the race in 38.70s.
Namibia finished 5th overall in a time of 40.53.
In the men’s 4x200m sprint, USA won in 1:20.94 tailed by St Kitts & Nevis in 1:23.31 with Nigeria third in 1:24.09, trailed by Namibia in 4th place. The latter set a new national record of 1:24.09 in the process.
The Namibian women’s team finished 4th overall in a time of 3:46.92 behind USA, Jamaica and Nigeria, in that order.
“I am grateful that we can expose our athletes at the highest level in the best competitions against the world’s best.
“I said it before that I want to see our athletes compete regularly in the Diamond League and World-class events as Frank (Fredericks) and Agnes (Samaria) used to and then go to the Africa, World and Olympics and be able to compete for medals,” coach Letu Hamhola delighted
“We have improved in Africa, with athletes from the development programme winning four medals at the All Africa Games and now we are going for the world stage but we still have a lot of work and will definitely improve our time.”
Hamhola expressed the hope that with the necessary support from the Namibian government, the programme will grow and lay the foundation for athletes to march onto the big stage challenging the USA/Jamaica rivalry,
“I have no doubt that we have the talent to do so,” concluded Hamhola before thanking Namibians living in the USA for making their stay pleasant and by supporting the athletes in different ways.
The Namibian athletes will now turn their attention to the Jamaica Invitational, where they will come up against the same international stars in their individual events. The months of May and June are crucial for the Namibians as they hit the home straight in search of gaining more berths for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.