Collin Matiza Sports Editor
THE Zimbabwe Olympic Committee will name their final team for this year’s Summer Olympic Games on July 22.
The 31st edition of the Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to run from August 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Zimbabwe are set to make their ninth straight appearance at the world’s biggest sporting showcase since the attainment of Independence in April 1980.
Zimbabwe, who were represented by a small team of seven athletes at the previous Games in London in 2012, will this year send their biggest contingent to the Summer Games although it is the quality and not the quantity in Team Zimbabwe that most sports followers in this country are interested in.
Yesterday marked less than 200 days (199 days to be precise) away from the 2016 Summer Olympic Games with ZOC indicating in their calendar of events for this year that the team announcement of Team Zimbabwe will be made on July 22 in Harare and that will be 14 days or two weeks before the Games explodes into life in Rio de Janeiro.
Team Zimbabwe will this year comprise of more than 25 athletes alone who are expected to represent the country in Rio de Janeiro following the qualification of the women’s national soccer team – the Mighty Warriors – for these Games in October last year.
In fact, the Mighty Warriors wrote their own piece of history when they became the first team sport from Zimbabwe to qualify for the Summer Olympic Games after beating continental heavyweights Cameroon on away goals rules in the final qualifier last October.
The Shadreck Mlauzi-coached Mighty Warriors first went down 1-2 to Cameroon in the first leg of the final qualifying round in Yaounde before they defied the odds to beat the West African giants 1-0, courtesy of Rudo Neshamba’s first-half strike in the return leg at Rufaro.
Neshamba also scored for the Mighty Warriors in the first leg in Yaounde.
And the Mighty Warriors are now looking at having their first dance with the 12-team contest in the women’s soccer tournament at the Rio Games where they will be joined by at least seven more Zimbabwean athletes who will represent the country in swimming, athletics, shooting and rowing.
In swimming, the legendary Kirsty Coventry has already booked her ticket for the Rio Games where she will be making her fifth straight appearance at the Olympics since she first competed at the Sydney Games in 2000 as a 16-year-old Dominican Convent Girls High School pupil.
And that was the beginning of her historic appearances at the Summer Olympic Games where she later reaped a record seven medals – two golds, four silvers and one bronze – for her country at the next two Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004 and Beijing, China, in 2008.
Although Coventry returned home empty-handed at the 2012 London Games due to injury, she is hoping to make her final appearance at the Summer Olympic Games by fishing out one more medal in Rio de Janeiro where she has qualified to represent Zimbabwe in the women’s 100m backstroke event.
Female rower Micheen Thornycroft will also be returning to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio where she has qualified to race in the singles sculls with fellow Zimbabwean Peter Purcell-Gilpin who will be representing the country in the men’s event.
Thornycroft is set to compete at the Summer Olympic Games for the second time in her career after having made her first appearance at these Games four years ago at the London Games where she, unfortunately, found the going tough at Dorney Lake which, for the purposes of the Games venue, was officially termed Eton Dorney.
She must have returned home empty-handed but she gained same invaluable experience which will put her in good stead at the Rio Games.
Long-distance runner Wirimai Juwawo has also qualified to run in the men’s marathon at the Rio Games where he is likely to be joined by either Cuthbert Nyasango, Gilbert Mutandiro or Pardon Ndhlovu in the three slots that are available for each country at this event.
In the women’s marathon, Sharon Tavengwa, Olivia Chitate and Faith Nyasango have also been targeted to represent Zimbabwe at the Rio Games.
The door is still open for Zimbabwean sprinters such as Ngoni Makusha and Gabriel Mvumvure to be part of Team Zimbabwe in Brazil as qualification period for the Rio Games closes on July 11.
In shooting, veteran shottist Michael Nicholson has attained the required qualifying standards to wear the Zimbabwean colours in the Double Trap competition in Rio.