Frank ‘Frankie’ Fredericks was born and raised in what is now the national capital of Namibia, Windhoek, in the days before independence, when it was still the territorial capital of South West Africa, under the control of South Africa. Fredericks later reflected that, while living under apartheid, he ‘never even thought about the [Olympic] Games’, but that did not stop him from becoming the first Namibian, man or woman, to win an Olympic medal.
Indeed, from a nation with no athletics pedigree, Fredericks emerged as one of the finest sprinters in history. He won gold medals in the 200 metres at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and at the 1999 World Indoor Championships in Maebashi, Japan. In 1996, he set an indoor world record over the distance, 19.95 seconds, which has yet to be beaten.
For all his success elsewhere, though, it was on the biggest stage of all, at the Olympic Games, that Fredericks acquired a rather unfair ‘nearly man’ tag. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he won silver medals in both the 100 metres and 200 metres, finishing second to Linford Christie and Michael Marsh, respectively. At the Atlanta Olympics four years later, Fredericks once again attempted the ‘sprint double’, but had to settle for two more silver medals. He could take cold comfort from the fact that the gold medallists in both events, Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson, set new world records in their respective finals.
Reflecting on his performance, Fredericks said, ‘I think the only race I would like to run over is the 100 metres in Atlanta. I think that was the gold medal that got away.’ He had no such complaint about the 200 metres final, in which Johnson clocked 19.32 seconds, a time bettered only by Usain Bolt.