What does the future hold for Tanzanian swimming?

12Mar 2018
The Guardian
What does the future hold for Tanzanian swimming?

TANZANIA has for decades trailed its partner states in the East African Community for top athletes, as well as EAC next-door neighbour Ethiopia for classy performance in field and track events. However, it hasn’t on the whole been excessively poor in the supply of athletes.

There have been other spheres where our sportsmen and women have excelled from time to time, for instance in boxing where Tanzanian boxers became household names in East Africa and well beyond. In the past few years the country has been heard from time to time in the long distances, from Commonwealth Games to All Africa Games, and lately to an IAAF championship.

The latter contest is noticeable because of its comparison with the Olympic Games, where Tanzania won two medals in the 1980 Moscow Games partially because the United States and a good number of its allies boycotted the Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

IAAF is an annual competition where the world’s best meet and our athletes have scarcely been able to register a presence in those tournaments. Thus when Alphonce Simbu won a bronze medal in an IAAF meet in the past year, it was an eye opener that something is changing in local athletics, that our potential is more visible after waiting for a long time.

By comparison, swimming is not such a star studded game viewed by millions of people in Africa, though in Olympic Games it is one of the rich medal laden games, as it has numerous competitive outlets and countries collect medal hauls just in one sport. Going by sporadic headlines in the local media, something is making headway in that sport in our schools in particular, as young talented swimmers come up each year or two, and now it seems they are starting to be noticed in international competitions, outside the East Africa region for that matter.

 One such headline last year talked about Tanzania’s female swimmer Sonia Tumiotto emerging the overall winner of the 2017 Africa Zone Three Championships held at the Haven of Peace Academy pool. Tumiotto is a member of Dar es Salaam Swimming Club. At that event several noted local swimmers got their personal bests in the Commonwealth Youth Games swimming events.

Perhaps the most noticeable of these youthful prodigies, by Tanzanian standards at least, is Natalia Ladha who is just 13 and has won medals in the US in the past year’s swimming competition, and was last month gearing up for this year's competition in the US. 

She will compete in the Florida Gold Coast Junior Olympic Championships in July, the only one picked from Tanzania, as the contest wasn’t just a marketing blitz but an intensive junior event. Natalia surprised event organisers by taking six gold medals amid the competition.

When one looks at such events and recalls that the Tanzanian Olympic Committee sent the nation’s smallest delegation to the Olympic Games in 2016, not just out of penury but qualifying individuals were rarely available and left to do training on their own without central organisation or support, one takes heart in the future. Natalia isn’t the formula of what holds in future but an illustration, if we work had enough, that is.