THE Namibia Paralympic Committee (NPC) is looking to the future with renewed optimism after its youth-laden team plundered 30 medals at the South African Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD) championships this week.
The games next door were once again a happy hunting ground for Namibian athletes who amassed 20 gold, three silvers and four bronze medals at the three-day event.
Precocious track-and-field starlet Lize Meyer contributed four gold medals to the glittering collection. The 13-year-old won the female under-14 all classes 100m and 200m sprints plus the shot-put and discus field events.
Similarly brilliant was Lahja Ipinge (16), who bagged gold in the T11/12 100, 200 and 400 m u17 dashes.
The outstanding T35-38 sprinter Petrus Karuli (22) added two golds and a silver, with T12/ F12 campaigner Michael Muyenga (17) weighing in with two golds and a bronze, while reigning national junior sportsman of the year with a disability Bradley Murere (20) got a gold and bronze in T46/47 and F46/47 in the category.
An elated NPC secretary general Michael Hamukwaya was left purring as the youngsters sprung to the fore, lessening the burden on veterans Ananias Shikongo, Johanna Benson and Johannes Nambala, who all managed an assortment of medals each.
“We’re really excited to see a very young team coming through for Namibian para sport – especially in athletics,” says Hamukwaya.
He missed the action in South Africa due to having to chaperone another budding sprinter, Chris Kinda, to the Dubai 2022 World Para Athletics Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates.
Kinda (22) and his guide, Kelvin Goagaseb, placed fourth overall in the men’s T11 100m on Tuesday.
The Namibian pair were third in their time race, clocking 11,82 seconds behind overall winner Guillaume Atangana of Cameroon (11,43) and Peerapon Watbok of Iraq in second place (11,74).
“This was really a good performance and a good show by all these young athletes who got an opportunity [to compete abroad] and took it seriously,” Hamukwaya says.
“So, this is good for the future of the country. It shows we can continue to produce world-class athletes, because when you look at the times, they are really very good.
“We are excited and can’t wait for them to get more exposure at international level. We believe these youngsters have what it takes to become champions.”
Hamukwaya says they are grateful for the annual SASAPD championships, which are a priceless source of preparation and springboard to bigger international competitions.
The SASAPD doubles as a qualification event for the 2022 Para Commonwealth Games. The NPC will be notified of the athletes who made the cut once the IPC ratifies the results.
Along with Namibia and hosts South Africa, the competition also attracted competitors from Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
Team Namibia’s participation at the games was made possible by the support of primary sponsor NamPower and the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service.
“We are really grateful that people with disabilities have been given the opportunity to participate internationally like their able-bodied counterparts. We hope the support will continue and grow, because we have a bigger competition coming up, and we will be needing funds,” Hamukwaya says.
These competitions include the International Paralympic Committee-sanctioned Tunis Grand Prix in June, and the Marrakech Grand Prix in September.
It will be the first time that Africa hosts two IPC Grand Prix in the same season.
“These are all very exciting events, which give us the opportunity for our athletes to get international classification,” says Hamukwaya.
Sandwiched in between the two meets are the Para Commonwealth Games set for Birmingham, England, from 28 July to 8 August.