Quick to put Namibia on map Sprinter Fredericks man of many missions

Atlanta Olympics


ATLANTA -- Underneath Angola. Next to Botswana. Above South Africa.

This is how Frankie Fredericks describes the location of the land he comes from, Namibia, a former colony of South Africa, a place where a child could sprint across fields without knowing of the Olympic Games.

"I didn't grow up with the opportunity to dream of being in the Olympics, to dream of winning a gold medal," Fredericks said.

But now, he is at the Centennial Summer Olympics, where he wants to become the fastest man on the planet, wants to beat Michael Johnson and wants the world to take notice of Namibia.

Fredericks is the favorite to win the most-prized gold in track and field, in the men's 100 meters. He also may be the only man who stands between America's Johnson and immortality in the 200.

Fredericks has raced at the Olympics before, winning silver in the 100 and 200 in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain. Yet the stakes are greater now, and so are the expectations for the season's most dominant 100-meter sprinter.

In a span of 10 days earlier this summer, he ran the second- and third-fastest 100 meters in history, lowering his personal best to 9.86 seconds, a fraction off Leroy Burrell's world record of 9.85. And, at 200 meters, he beat Johnson, the new world record-holder. Those who only follow track and field once every four years may have been shocked by the performances. But not Fredericks.

"If you follow athletics and know athletes, you should know I've been on the map," he said. "Most of the America media think I came from nowhere."

His story is compelling, for he is one of the few truly great XTC Olympians whose life is filled with texture and substance. He is a black African who grabbed a scholarship from a mining company and attended college at Brigham Young, a Mormon bastion. He is a highly paid sprinting star who has a degree in computer science and a master's degree in business.

One moment, he talks of his love for sprinting, saying, "When you run fast, the little kid in you comes out." The next moment, he is telling reporters about Namibia's history, from its colonization to its independence in 1990.

He said he has met his goals of gaining an education, a job and some money so that he was able to build a house for his mother, Rickie, a seamstress. "If I have to work the rest of my life for her, I will," he said. "Without her, I wouldn't have accomplished anything."

His mother gave him the dreams that others tried to deny him as he grew up in Katutura, a black township adjacent to the Namibian capital of Windhoek. He wants to pass those dreams on to others through a youth enterprise center he is helping fund in his old neighborhood.

"If you give someone just a little bit of education, a dream, they can decide what to do," he said.

Racing in America, Fredericks saw a different life, and new career path. He became the first non-American sprinter to win the 100 and 200 at the NCAA championships in 1991.

It was the same year that track and field's ruling body recognized Namibia, lifting the ban on its runners, who had been subjected to the same restrictions because of racial apartheid as competitors from South Africa.

Fredericks hit the international circuit and squeezed into the Olympics in 1992. A year later, he began training with the Olympic 100 champion, Linford Christie of Great Britain.

Christie taught him about commitment to his sport, about tactics, and about winning big races.

"If I don't win, I'd like Linford to win," Fredericks said. "If I win, I know he'll be happy."

But this is not a time for friendship. The 100 final is Saturday night. The 200 is next week.

If he wins, he'll not only win for himself but for his country. As he watched the opening ceremonies from his training base in Florida, Fredericks said he was disappointed that NBC cut to a commercial before showing Namibia's flag. "All you saw were the big countries," he said. "I'd like people to go to the atlas, look and see where Namibia is."

If he wins the gold, the world will know where to look. Underneath Angola. Next to Botswana. Above South Africa.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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