Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
NATIONAL Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (NAAZ) president Tendai Tagara has challenged middle-distance runners to aim for Olympic Games qualification.
The games scheduled for August will be staged in Rio de Janeiro and NAAZ have indicated that they are hoping to send a big team this year.
Speaking at the National Cross Country championships at Morris Depot held last Sunday in Harare, Tagara said they are happy with the long distance runners, where four athletes — Wirimai Juwawo, Pardon Ndhlovu, Cuthbert Nyasango and Gilbert Mutandiro have so far attained qualification times for the games.
The national association will choose the best three athletes based on their times to compete in Rio.
However, Tagara said, it is in the middle-distances where they are focusing on now and urged athletes to push for qualification times.
“We must send a bigger team for athletics to the Olympics. On Sprinters we have no problem, marathon we have no problem, we are now focusing on the middle-distance runners, we can qualify there.
“We have athletes who can run very good 400m hurdles in the police force,
“I am challenging you today you can run that 49 seconds, so it’s a challenge to the athletes.
“Let’s go back to our bases, let’s go back to work with our coaches so that we qualify.
“We need three athletes for 800m, 1 500m, 5 000m and 10 000m, all those events are still empty you are all being challenged,” said Tagara addressing athletes who attended Sunday’s event.
The championships attracted athletes from various provinces with the likes of Jacob Mugomeri, who was the eventual winner in the senior men, women’s champion Olivia Chitate and last year’s winner Munyaradzi Jari taking part.
Tagara said the turn up by top athletes was an indication that they are raring to fight for qualification for the Olympics.
“This is an indication that our athletes are raring to go and they want to qualify for the Olympics.
“I am happy also our marathon runners were here preparing for the other marathons that they still want to compete in.
“Remember those that have qualified still want to better their times so they were here for endurance,” Tagara said.
NAAZ also used the championships as a selection platform for a team to represent Zimbabwe at the Africa Cross Country championships in Yaoundé, Cameroon on March 12.
And the top three athletes in the senior men and women will proceed to the continental event.
Mugomeri will lead the men’s team that includes Isaac Mpofu and Tendai Zimuto while Olivia Chitate, Constance Nyasango and Bertha Chikanga made it in the women’s section.
Speaking on development, Tagara said they would work to ensure that they take their sport to the grassroots level as the Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane has called on national associations to spread their sport codes to ward level.
“The minister has challenged us that we need structures up to the ward level, as an association we have structures up to the district level.
“We have been challenged, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we get to the grassroots, that’s the ward level, that is where the schools are involved in groups in the organisation of athletics,” Tagara said.