Zimbabwe's Brian Dzingai

Dzingai propelled Bolt to gold?

By Goodwill Zunidza

THE jury may still be out on whether or not it was Brian Dzingai’s standstill speed in the 200m final of the Beijing Olympics that gave Usain Bolt the spring in his dash to a gold medal finish.

Running on the lane next to Bolt’s, Dzingai was Africa’s lone representative among an elite startlist of eight.

But like all other finalists, he gave up the battle at the 100m bend as Bolt turned in style to set the pace for what would be a new world and Olympic record of 19.30 sec. Dzingai reported in at 20.22, placed fourth.

Anyway a postmortem is only conducted when someone is dead, or his career or scheme is over. This can never be one because, for Zimbabwe, Dzingai has only just sprung to life.

Dzingai, whose name would hardly have rung a bell in the minds of local sport enthusiasts prior to the justended Beijing Olympic Games, is a bullet on as yet an unfulfilled mission.

He arrived in Beijing on August 6, a relaxed and supremely confident fellow itching to prove to the world he deserved as much attention as was accorded the top international runners challenging for 200m Olympic honours.

With hardly anyone taking notice of him, Dzingai knew only effective use of his nimble feet could get the world to talk.

It was his second appearance at the Olympic stage and to get to Beijing he had again galloped home within the ‘A’ standard qualifying time of 20.50 in England last year.

But his blazing form told him China would be the perfect stage to grab attention.

And this time Dzingai, like all the other professional athletes at the Games, brought along his personal manager and physiotherapist while opening close contact between Ken Harnden, his mentor in the US, and Team Zimbabwe coach Tendai Tagara.

“I kept telling people, ‘Just watch me’,” Dzingai reminisced after the long but patient wait finally got him close to glory in the 200m final at the Bird’s Nest Stadium.

“I knew I was in shape. I just felt it. I knew I was going to run a really good time.”

He couldn’t have imagined how good. Although his finish was slower than his season’s best of 20.17 and his national record of 20.12, the fact that he was Africa’s man in the event was enough to hand him the bragging rights on the continent.

It may not have been the best of times for Dzingai, who initially reached the crossline in sixth position. Disqualification of two other athletes ahead of him saw Dzingai’s position upgraded to fourth, a spitting distance from the bronze medal.

The Zimbabwean was completely deserving of a respectable finish. In the heats Dzingai had pulled through to the final as the fastest of all contestants with 20.23.

Consider that this was better than Bolt’s qualifying time of 20.29 in a separate heat!
It was unbelievable how the wheels came off Dzingai in the final, leaving him well and truly trailing behind the Jamaican who swept past each opponent like a monkey racing against trees.

Did Dzingai feel so intimidated by Bolt that he gave up the fight just as it began? Not at all, he says.

“People must know this was not my first time to race against Usain. I have taken him on about four or five times before and I am pretty aware of his speed. The fact that he broke the record means I pushed him to do his best,” he told The Sunday Mail.

But who is this latest sporting phenomenon to hit Zimbabwe — with the pun too good to skip — like a Bolt?

Zimbabwe’s first ever finalist in a track event at a global sporting extravaganza was born in Harare on April 29 1981 and, coming from welltodo parents, did his high school at the private St George’s College in the capital, completing his Alevels in 1999.

After doing a few rounds at the Millennium Athletics Academy, Dzingai left for the United States at the onset of the millennium on an academic scholarship to Truman State in Missouri. It was not long before he impressed the track coach and eventually received athletic funds.

“I was blessed,” said Dzingai of his easy walk to stardom. “I never experienced what a whole lot of people go through.

“Each day at the track, I’m just trying to work hard to get better. I know there’s a lot of kids in Zim who could probably run as fast or faster than me, but they haven’t had the chance to come here and do it . . . I’m grateful, and I’m seizing the opportunity.”

Joe Dzingai, Brian’s inspirational father, is a Harare businessman and his gracious mother, Ann, a schoolteacher.

Brian, the more famous of their four children, even had the luxury of swapping universities in the US just to enhance his athletics career.
Transferring to Florida State University in 2002, Dzingai had made it into the track team before any of his mates could correctly point to Zimbabwe on the world map.

The young Southern African went on to grab a basketful of individual honours and championships and his exploits reached the ears of the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe (NAAZ), leading to his callup for national duty.

Although he finished a disappointing sixth at the 2006 African Championships, he was part of the bronze medalwinning 4 x 100 m relay team at the 2007 AllAfrica Games in Algeria, alongside Nelton Ndebele, Lewis Banda and African junior champion Gabriel Mvumvure.

At world level Dzingai has in the last five years while at Florida State University competed at the 2003, 2005 and last year’s World Championships and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens but failed to reach the final round on each occasion.

The Zimbabwean, who also runs in the 100m he favours less, has recently graduated from FSU with an MBA in Accounting, but will shelve his books in order to turn professional at the start of the new year in January.

Still based in Florida, he is confident fulltime concentration in sport will enable him to realise his longcherished dreams.

“It’s just a great honour to represent my country. That’s the reason why I moved to Florida State. I felt like going there was the best opportunity to take it to the next level. It has paid off and now I am competing with the world’s best.”

It was at FSU that Dzingai recorded his time of 20.12 seconds, achieved in June 2004 at a meet in Texas, and it remains the current Zimbabwean record.

Even his mentors at Florida State University will forever be proud of his achievements to line up among world recordbreakers at a major event like the Olympics.

“That is huge for the programme,” FSU track coach Bob Braman commented. “You can recruit athletes saying our guy is in the Olympic Games.”

It was not difficult for Dzingai to settle at FSU.

Harnden, a fellow Zimbabwean, is the assistant athletics track coach to Braman and played a huge role in luring the 27yearold sprinter to the university.
Harnden (31), formerly based in the state of North Carolina, represented Zimbabwe at two Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, an expert 110m and 400m hurdler whose honours were restricted to the Commonwealth Games.
Dzingai’s close association with Harnden has fascinated their peers in Florida who expected their different racial backgrounds to cause friction between the two Zimbabweans.

They have both laughed off the expectations.
“Both of us grew up going to boarding schools, so not only did we go to schools with people of another race, we lived with them,” Harnden told the media in Florida.

“In my opinion, racism is learned. We haven’t learned it and weren’t taught it."

Each time Harnden comes home for holidays he leaves his personal effects for Dzingai to take care of.

[b][u]“I trust him like a brother,” Harnden said. Dzingai told the same to reporters.

“Race has never been an issue with us,” Dzingai said. “I couldn’t ask for a better coach. Just as much as Ken is my coach, I see him as a friend, too.”[/u][/b]

After arriving back in Harare with Team Zimbabwe last Wednesday, Dzingai flew out to London via Johannesburg on Friday afternoon.
He is taking part in a warmup race in Newcastle this weekend before he arrives in Switzerland tomorrow for the ongoing Zurich Open where one of his adversaries will again be Usain Bolt.


Brian is one of the shortest long sprinters (1.68m), but sees it as an advantage, since the opponents are underestimating him, he said.
Nice guy whose results in Beijing pleased many people.