I was never free - Nyongani

HARARE - Two-time Zimbabwe Olympian sprinter Young Talkmore Nyongani still bears emotional scars over the treatment he received from the Zimbabwe athletics governing body (Naaz) due to his roots.

The Millennium Athletics Academy (MAA) product says he felt like an outsider to a system that was supposed to support him, making it impossible for him to whole-heartedly represent his country.

Yet, that has not stopped the Zimbabwe junior 400metres record holder from giving back to the sport that brought him fame through helping fledgling athletes realise their potential.

“I was never free to run for my country,” Nyongani tells the Daily News.

“Yes, I was captain of the Zimbabwe athletics team for a time but it was difficult because I was a product of Millennium Athletics Academy, an academy whose leaders were at loggerheads with the leaders of the association.

“I was lucky to have powerful people around me. But the formation of Millennium Academy in 1998 was not well received by the association. It was people who were power hungry.

“In the end it was us the academy products that suffered. But I survived because I was outstanding on the track.

“That academy gave me the platform. It produced a lot of guys. There were not many races in Zimbabwe but that academy was promoting a lot of races across all the 10 provinces.”

Nyongani’s holds the fastest Zimbabwe junior 400m record after blitzing 45.47 seconds at the Southern Region Junior Championships in 2002.

Like many other now accomplished Zimbabwe athletes, Nyongani’s story to prominence started from humble beginnings, running in his rural home of Makonde before he was brought to the capital by MAA.

At MAA he would train alongside now Eindhoven-based Sharon Tavengwa, former Olympian Cuthbert Nyasango, US-based Ngoni Makusha amongst an array athletes bearing immense potential.

But, Nyongani admits track was not his first love.

“In primary school, my first love was not running, it was tennis. Only around Form Two I started gaining an interest, running with friends.

“I ran all events back then, cross country and track then I managed to get into the provincial team, then the national team. From there I realised I had the talent.

“In 1999 I was identified by Millennium Athletics Academy at a meet in Mrehwa.

“They started to sponsor us, trips to go train in Harare, promoting races and giving us exposure, to keep you on the track. That’s when I started to take track professional.

“I moved to Harare in 2000 and began full-time training at the National Sports Stadium,” the Chinhoyi-raised athlete says.

True to potential, it was not long before Nyongani rose to international prominence.

He would make his international debut in 2002 at the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica where he finished a credible fourth in a time of 45.93 seconds.

He followed that meet with an appearance at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, finishing 22nd in the 400m.

Nyongani capped his 2002 season by coming fifth at the African Championships in Radès, Tunisia after finishing the 200m in 21.16 seconds.

The former Alaska Primary School pupil started the 2003 season with a not so impressive performance at the All-Africa Games in Abuja, Nigeria managing 15th place in the 400m.

He however went on to garner his first continental podium finish, storming to a bronze medal standing in the 4x400 m relay in a time of 3:05.62.

Nyongani achieved another bronze medal in 2004 at the African Championships in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo after completing his favored 400m in 45.69seconds before romping to a gold medal standing in the 4x400 m relay in a time of 3:02.38.

Olympic Games in Athens, Greece would be Nyongani’s next stop.

Then just 21-years-old, Nyongani was given the honuor to carry the Zimbabwe flag at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics.

“That was obviously an amazing moment,” recalls Nyongani.

“I went there to fulfil a dream. I had run my personal best before the Olympics. It’s unfortunate things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped at the Olympics.

“There was a lot of pressure.  It’s not easy as when you are away home.”

His time of 46.03 seconds could only help him achieve a distant 28th at the Olympics, but Nyongani that only served to inspire him.

He competed in the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 2005 before taking part at the African Championships in Bambous, Mauritius the following year were he came third in the 400m.

The 2007 season saw him take part in the All-Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria coming second the 400m.

He later competed in the World Championships in Osaka, Japan before qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games Beijing, China.

Nyongani has been off the radar since taking part in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Germany where he finished 26th.

The MAA product, who holds a personal best time is 44.96 seconds, achieved in March 2005 in Pretoria, has been quietly resurrecting his career in South Africa.

“I’m in the transport service industry here in South Africa,” he says. “I use some of those funds to sustain my family as well as my athletics career.

“I still train a couple of youngsters here and there, but I think I still have it in me. If everything goes to plan I should be competing at the 2016 Olympics. That is when I will say my farewell.”

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