Zimbabwe will have more athletes at the upcoming Olympics than in 2012, with nine athletes and our senior women’s soccer team already confirmed, and several other hopefuls looking to qualify in coming months.
This is cause for celebration after Zimbabwe sending just seven athletes to compete in four disciplines – a record low – to the London Games in 2012.
The women’s football team warrants particular excitement as they are the first Zimbabwean football team ever to qualify.
Swimmer Kirsty Coventry will be competing in her fifth Olympic Games. The seven-time Olympic medallist will take part in her signature 200 m backstroke and 100 m backstroke events. Four marathoners, Wirimayi Juwawo, Pardon Ndhlovu, Gilbert Mutandiro, and Cuthbert Nyasango have secured their place in the Rio competition as well.
Nyasango is a bright medal hopeful for Team Zimbabwe. He achieved a respectable 7th place at London 2012 – the best ever Olympic marathon finish by a Zimbabwean.
Rower Micheen Thornycroft will be making a return to the Olympics after taking part in London 2012, while Peter Purcell-Gilpin will make his rowing debut.
Archer Gavin Sutherland also secured his maiden Games’ appearance – the first Zimbabwean archer to take part since Seoul 1988. Also representing Zimbabwe will be clay target shottist Michael Nicholson, who last competed in 2004 in the double trap event.
Other Zimbabwean athletes are currently in qualifying competitions around the world, so the final number of Rio-bound Zimbabweans is still unknown.
Rower James Fraser-Mackenzie who participated in London 2012 is a bright prospect, as are swimmers Sean Gunn, James Lawson and Tarryn Rennie.
At London 2012 -once again for the first time in Zimbabwe’s Olympic history – there were no track and field athletes. Sprinters Gabriel Mvumvure, Ngoni Makusha and Keegan Cooke hope to remedy this in Rio, as they still have the chance to qualify.
The national Sevens rugby team are also hoping to make the list when they play in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in Monaco in June. If they succeed, the team will join fellow Africans South Africa and Kenya at the Rio Games.
Even if a few more athletes make the cut, Zimbabwe’s final delegation will be a far cry from the Seoul 1988, when 29 athletes competed under the Zimbabwean banner.
Apart from qualifying, Zimbabwe’s medal prospects are also under scrutiny. In its history, Zimbabwe has won only eight Olympic medals, seven clinched by Coventry and one other gold medal won by the women’s field hockey team in 1980.
Olympic legend Kirsty Coventry has won more individual Olympic medals for swimming than any other woman in history. At 32, Coventry did not manage a single medal in London 2012 but has high hopes this time around.
Coventry, who lives and trains in America, recently posted on her Facebook page, “The Olympic year is off to a great start. Training hasn’t stopped and neither has my progression. This means my head is in the game, and I can still go faster,” she said. The pressure is on for Coventry, as Rio 2016 will be her Olympic swansong. “The Rio Olympics will mark the end of an amazing swimming career for me,” she announced on her Facebook wall.
Rower Micheen Thornycroft is having a busy year already. In the next few weeks she heads to Lesotho for a high-altitude training camp before she competes at the first World Cup in Varese, Italy, in April. From the Varese regatta, another high-altitude camp follows before returning to the Rowing World Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland.
“[Winning medals] is always the dream and what we aim for as athletes. I will be happy to make the final,” Thornycroft told Harare News. “These upcoming events are critical. The camps set the standard with our training and the World Cups give us a chance to test our speed and gain race experience.”
Between now and July, Zimbabwean sports fans will focus attention on the remaining potential Rio representatives for Zimbabwe. No matter the outcome, the Zimbabwean flag will fly high at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Image: Seven-time Olympic medalist, Kirsty Coventry.