Sem, Marc carry Nam hopesBy: HELGE SCHUTZ
NAMIBIA’S last two athletes still competing at the Olympics, wrestler Sem Shilimela and mountain biker Marc Bassingthwaighte will both be in action this weekend.
Shilimela will compete in the Men’s 55kg Freestyle category at the ExCel Arena this afternoon while Bassingthwaighte will compete in the Men’s Mountain Bike Race at Hadleigh Farm in Essex on Sunday.
Shilimela has been hard at work over the past two weeks with his trainer Luis Forcelledo, training with some other wrestlers from Cuba and Honduras.
During this time, he turned 21 on July 30, but there was no time for celebration as he is completely focused on his bout on Friday.
The youthful Shilimela declined to speak to the media before the fight, with Forcelledo saying that he was completely focussed and concentrating on his fight.
“Sem has been training hard and is completely focussed on his fight. He is in good shape and I am confident, but the draw will also play a role in how he does,” he said.
The wrestlers were due to be weighed in on Thursday afternoon when the first round draw for opponents would be made.
A total of 19 wrestlers from 19 different nations will be in action in the first round bouts. They include the silver medallist at the 2011 World Championships, Radoslav Velikov of Bulgaria and the bronze medallist Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan.
Shilimela also competed at the 2011 World Championships where he won his first round fight before being eliminated in the Round of 16 by Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia, who will also be competing on Friday.
Bassingthwaighte, who will compete in the mountain bike event on Sunday, said he is in top shape and looking forward to the event.
“I’ve worked very hard this year and I’m in the best shape of my life so it’s now or never,” he said.
Bassinghtwaighte will be competing against the top 50 mountain bikers in the world and has set himself a target of finishing amongst the top 30.
He came second at the African Championships over the past two years – behind South Africa’s Burries Stander in 2011 and behind another South African Philip Buys this year.
The defending Olympic champion Julien Absalon will once again start as a strong favourite to win the race after he won the Hadleigh Farm Mountain Bike International on 31 July, on the same course.
Absalon led from the start and stormed to the finish line a full one minute and 20 seconds ahead of second placed Christoph Sauser from Switzerland, and a minute and 46 seconds ahead of third place rider Austria’s Karl Markt.
Team Namibia’s Chef de Mission Ndeulipula Hamutumwa wished both athletes well, and congratulated them for qualifying for the Olympics.
“Sem and Marc have qualified for the Olympic Games on their own merits and it was not easy. We must understand that it is their first Olympic Games, so I can only wish them all the best in their competition and remind them to remain focused at all times,” he said.
Hamutumwa said that Namibia had found the going tough, competing against the best athletes in the world.
“Namibia’s performance has been tough in view of the level of competition our athletes found themselves up against. The athletes tried their level best to compete with athletes who are world champions and who are full time professionals.”
“The athletes should use every movement at the Olympics as a learning experience for future games. And I would like to second the Minister of Sport‘s call for the nation to support our men and women who are competing at this level,” he added.