Among the stars of athletics, he is considered to be a gentleman. A great champion in his own right, both on and off the track, where his kind features, evident class and elegant manner of managing situations (including defeat) make him unique and inimitable – almost a monument.
Indeed, his native city has named a street after him, three kilometres that start near the centre of the city and end in the desert, running alongside the Sports Field and the airport from which flights leave for the national parks of Etosha and Namib Desert, the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund, the maritime gateway of this hard and desolate land, which is one of the thirstiest and most fascinating anywhere in the world.
Frankie Fredericks Drive, in Windhoek, Namibia, is a street dedicated in his lifetime and to the country’s most prestigious sportsman of the African continent. It is facile, one might say, to state that Frank Fredericks is the greatest athlete his country has ever known: the history of Namibia only dates back to the day before yesterday when independence was won from South Africa.
Yet, since that 21 March 1990 – springtime in Europe and autumn in Australia – no one has distinguished themselves more in international sport than Frankie, becoming in the process a roving ambassador for his country, hence the decision by the Namibian government to name a street after him in the capital Windhoek, a city comparable to an average Italian provincial city: if you turn the clocks back thirty years.
One road, Independence Avenue, splits the city centre in two. This is the road where people take a stroll, do their shopping and is home to many public buildings. Once upon a time, it used to be called Kaiserstrasse, the Kaiser’s road, sign of the German domination that has left its mark on the architecture, customs and even in the language.
The Namibian government chose to honour Fredericks in September 1992, just a few days after the Barcelona Olympics, where Frankie won two silver medals, the first ever for Namibia. The area was not chosen at random: the Sports Field is the sporting area of Windhoek (if there were any doubt, the street names are there to remind you: Golf Street, Cricket Street, Tennis Street…), where better for a street dedicated to the illustrious compatriot?
A little further on, as the city fades into the orange sand, signs warn motorists of danger from kudu, antelope and warthogs crossing the road and you have the impression of stepping into another world.
His ties to his homeland are something that Fredericks has in his blood: there would always be a party when he returns to Windhoek. Here, there are no avant-garde structures. Sports are one of the priorities on the agenda of the government.
Athletics? The first shoots are growing in the wake of the “Fredericks effect”, but it is still early to speak of there being a true “movement”. However, there is enthusiasm, as befits a young people with pride, used to surviving in this beautiful but savage and inhospitable environment.
A little investment would be enough to bring out the champions of tomorrow and there is no reason why Fredericks should not spearhead a project-Namibia to develop athletics in the country. But, for the time being, Frankie is happy to act as an itinerant standard bearer for his country.
This could well be the credo of Namibia; this country where water is more precious than gold and you don’t have to be dead to be a monument. - www.worldathletics.org