It’s Game On For Historic Zimbabwean Mountain Biker In Beijing

by Justin Davis

BEIJING, Aug 21, 2008 (AFP) – Antipass Kwari is under no illusions about
his chances of medal glory ahead of this Saturday’s Olympic mountain bike gold
race.

But his coach Wayne Davidson is getting excited at the opportunity Kwari,
the first Zimabbwean to compete in Olympic mountain biking, has to showcase
the sport to Africa.

“The importance of this cannot be put into words. It is absolutely
monstrous for us,” said Davidson.

“Cycling is very difficult to develop in Africa. With one soccer ball you
can have 22 players. To develop a cyclist you need one bicycle. It’s beyond
the means of most people.

“Getting bikes for riders and keeping them maintained with spare parts,
that’s the challenge. Talent-wise, its limitless.”

As one of three African starters, Kwari perhaps would have preferred racing
on a wide-open plain instead of the demanding up-and-down 4.5km loop that will
be raced for two hours west of Beijing.

“For training, we just go into the bush,” said Davidson. “We don’t have a
purpose-built trail anywhere. We can go to places where no human foot has ever
touched, but we’re leaving behind mountain bike tracks.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Kwari has to contend with obstacles
that his rivals would have to pay a fortune to see, during an African safari.

Paths used by locals linking remote villages, and the six-foot wide trails
left by elephants as they trudge through the bush are perfect training terrain
for the African.

It might not compare favourably with the profile of the course at Laoshan,
where stars like France’s defending champion Julien Absalon are expected to
shine.

But Kwari is hoping he can keep the pace.

“I am not in the same class as the big names,” said Kwari. “I will just try
to do the best I can and show what I can do.”

At Laoshan, there will be next to no chance of coming across big game
animals. It is not rare for Kwari to come across one in training.

“We follow game trails, or very often the native people walking from one
village to the next village,” said Davidson.

“Elephants make paths for themselves, six-foot wide, perfect for training.
You can bump into one, and that’s dangerous.”

Kwari is hoping his chances will be boosted by hot temperatures.

But for the 33-year-old – who secured his ticket to Beijing by finishing
third in this year’s African championships – his biggest boost could be the
lack of pressure.

“I’m getting excited. It’s a good atmosphere here in Beijing,” said Kwari.

“I was a little stressed out at the African championships in Namibia. I
wasn’t sure I’d make it to Beijing, but now I have a spot I am very happy”