Senior Sports Reporter
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has rallied Team Zimbabwe competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and said he is proud to see young swimmer Donata Katai leading as one of the flag bearers at the world’s biggest sporting showpiece.
At the Tokyo Games, Zimbabwe is being represented by rower Peter Purcell-Gilpin, swimmers Katai and Peter Wetzlar, golfer Scott Vincent and sprinter Ngoni Makusha.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were officially opened yesterday and will run until August 8.
In a message posted on his Twitter page on Thursday night, President Mnangagwa had some words of encouragement for young swimmer Katai and wished Team Zimbabwe luck as they represent the country at this year’s Olympic Games.
“Seventeen-years-old and leading your country as one of the flag bearers at an Olympic Games. What an extraordinary achievement by an extraordinary young woman.
“Donata — you have made me proud to be Zimbabwean! Good luck to all the Zimbabwean athletes competing in Tokyo this year — the whole nation is behind you!” he said.
President Mnangagwa, an avid sport follower, recently rewarded boxer Charles Manyuchi with a US$10 000 present following his victory in defence of the WBF Middleweight title.
Manyuchi beat Uganda’s Mahommed Sebyala by a unanimous points decision in a match held in Masvingo. The victory also earned him two newly inaugurated belts — the WABA World Supreme and the World Professional Boxing Federation titles.
Katai is the first Black Zimbabwean swimmer to represent the country at the Olympic Games and at the age of 17, she is the youngest member of the team in Tokyo.
She was the flag-bearer together with rower Purcell-Gilpin at yesterday’s opening ceremony.
Purcell-Gilpin was the first Zimbabwean athlete in competition yesterday in the men’s single sculls and came fourth in heat three in a time of 7 minutes 10.65 seconds.
He missed out on direct qualification to the quarter-finals and was scheduled to compete in repêchage this morning. The top two from the repêchage will proceed to the quarter-finals.
Katai is next to compete with her 100m backstroke event scheduled for tomorrow.
She will face 16-year-old Kimberly Ince from Grenada and India’s Maana Patel in Heat One of the six heats at Tokyo Aquatics.
The best 16 athletes progress to the semi-finals.
In an interview with The Herald early this week, her coach at Sharks Swimming Club, Kathy Lobb, shared her joy over the milestone made by the 17-year-old.
“It is every coach’s dream to get a swimmer to the Olympics and in Zimbabwe it takes a long time and a lot of hard work. It is not a quick fix thing. She is the first home-trained swimmer to get to an Olympics since 2000.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to look, listen and learn — to watch the world’s top swimmers in action and benefit from the whole experience. It is the first stage in what we hope will be a long and fruitful career in swimming.
“This is a very different Olympics to the norm and opportunities will be very restricted. She wants to go to the United States on a scholarship after her A-Levels, so participation at this level can only help her do that and get into a good American university,” said Lobb.
Katai has represented the country in a number of competitions including the FINA Junior World Championships and the Africa Junior Championships in 2019.
At the continental championships she won gold medals in the 50m backstroke and 50m butterfly.
Katai broke youth records once held by swimming icon Kirsty Coventry, who is now Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister. And competing at the Olympic Games should help the promising swimmer to propel her swimming career and achieve more as she has already shown potential.
Posting on his Facebook page, after being named as one of the flag bearers, Purcell-Gilpin expressed his excitement.
“I am truly honoured, have been chosen as the flag bearer for Zimbabwe, I’’ll do my best to bring as much of the Zimbabwean spirit to the Games as I can.
“As the founder of the modern Olympics said- ‘the important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong more valiant and above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.”
Yesterday morning, before the official opening of the Tokyo Games, Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Coventry, met with some members of Team Zimbabwe, including the president of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee, Thabani Gonye, at the Athletes Village.
And Gonye said Coventry’s visit uplifted their spirits ahead of the Games.
“In Tokyo for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Opening ceremony is on today. Had time to meet up with the Honourable Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, Dr Kirsty Coventry.
“Very proud of our young team of athletes who have worked hard to be here to meet and compete with the very best in the world. Get behind them Zimbabwe and support them as dreams are realised, opportunities open up and destinies defined. God bless Zimbabwe,” Gonye posted on his Facebook wall after meeting Coventry at the Tokyo Games Athletes Village.