Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
AS the curtain comes down on the IAAF World Championships tomorrow, where athletes from across the globe have had the opportunity to shine at the big stage, for Zimbabwe it’s time to reflect on what needs to be done for a better future. It was not a very fruitful adventure for them. Zimbabwe had five marathon runners – Cuthbert Nyasango, United States-based Pardon Ndhlovu, Millen Matende, Rutendo Nyahora and Fortunate Chidzivo – taking part in the men and women’s marathons last Sunday, the third day of the 10-day meet.
While they all ran their season best times except for Nyasango, who did not finish the race after he got injured, they could not make it into the top 20.
But they should be commended for their effort that saw them qualifying.
However, the track and field has become an area of concern after local athletes failed to meet the qualifying standards for this edition.
In the 2015 championships Zimbabwe had Tatenda Tsumba in 200m while Nyasango, Gilbert Mutandiro and Cephas Pasipamire made the cut for marathon. Olivia Chitate got a wild card in the women’s 5 000m event.
Seasoned sports administrator Robert Mutsauki said having five marathon runners is encouraging but that doesn’t mean the other areas should be ignored.
“The performances speak for themselves when our athletes compete at platforms such as the ongoing World Championships in London. The fact five marathon runners made it to London is a good and positive development.
“But by the same token one has to lament the fact that not a single track and field athlete made the grade when in the past the track and field athletes not only dominated the team but also recorded comparatively superior performances.
“In a number of cases instead of seeing improvement, there is either stagnation or even decline both of which are not positive or encouraging indicators,” said Mutsauki.
Neighbouring South Africa have been on the rise and they have already picked several medals at the meet with Wayde van Niekerk claiming the men’s 400m gold and 200m silver.
Luvo Manyonga got gold in long jump on the second day of the competition while Ruswahl Samaai got bronze.
Botswana have also made great strides, fielding several athletes in the track and field while for Zimbabwe who in the 1990s enjoyed some fair share of success in the track and field seem to be struggling.
Many will recall top athletes such as triple jumper Ndabezinhle Mdlongwa, who at one time held the Africa record of 17.34m, 800m runner Savieri Ngidhi and Philip Mukomana (400m).
“I would say the ‘90s were the golden years for athletics in Zimbabwe as evidenced not just by a large number of track and field athletes making it to the World Championships for example 10 in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1995.
‘‘But also the outstanding performances of hurdler Kenneth Harnden and distance runner Phillimon Hanneck who placed 6th and 10th in the finals of the 400 metre hurdles and the 5 000m races respectively with others such as 800m runner Savieri Ngidhi reaching the semi-finals.
“At the 1997 World Championships in Athens, Greece the 4 x 400m relay team of Tawanda Chiwira, Phillip Mukomana, Ngidhi and Harnden reached the finals and placed 7th.
“In summary I would say that it would be useful to exchange notes with the likes of South Africa and Botswana, our neighbours who are currently enjoying their place in the sun and even to collaborate with them particularly on athlete and coach development.
“The fact that Botswana, whose population is just a fraction of ours, has completely overshadowed us proves that this is not just a game of numbers but rather putting your money where your mouth is.
‘‘If we are satisfied with our current situation then we will remain exactly where we are.
“The ball is therefore firmly in the court of the athletics leadership in this country,” said Mutsauki.
Mutsauki, who was the Amateur Athletics Association of Zimbabwe president in the ‘90s, said a long term strategy for podium performance is the way to go for the country to make an impact in the sport.
Zimbabwe’s medal at the World Championships came in 2011 when Ngoni Makusha won bronze in long jump in Daegu, South Korea.