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IT is a combination of great achievements by individuals and a team that defied all odds over the past decade, from 2010 to 2019 to put Zimbabwe on the international map.
This is the story of Zimbabwe’s swimming icon Kirsty Coventry and the senior national netball team.
Coventry may have retired from competition as an athlete, but she remains one of the greatest athletes ever to emerge from this country.
Her heroics in the pool representing Zimbabwe will always be part of the country’s sporting history.
Generations to come will definitely read about her exploits and how she got Zimbabwe international recognition in the world’s sporting circles.
Coventry’s achievements in the pool are among the leading success stories for Zimbabwe that make one believe in the possibilities, and that if one set their mind on achieving something, it is possible.
Coventry’s victories at the African Games remain the best performance by an individual in Zimbabwean sport for the past decade, making her The Herald’s Athlete of the Decade.
She qualified and competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Although she did not pick medals at these two editions, it is the consistency in pushing herself and leading from the front in inspiring other athletes that anything is possible.
Earlier in 2011, Coventry won five individual medals at the African Games (then All-Africa Games) in Mozambique. She picked four gold medals in 200m and 400m individual medley, 100m and 200m backstroke and a silver in 100m butterfly.
She then helped the relay team win three silver medals in 4x100m medley, 4x100m freestyle and 4×200 freestyle.
The country’s leading Olympian had another good outing at the same continental Games when she claimed gold medals in 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley in 2015 in Brazzaville.
In 2010 she won silver in the 200m, two bronzes in the 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley at the World Cup.
She remains the country’s leading athlete over the decade in terms of podium finishes, even though she called it time on competitive competition in 2016.
It’s always encouraging and inspiring when one of your own does well and represents the country so well. It is those inspiring stories close to you that really have the power to change attitudes and bring people together despite their differences.
The decade also saw the rising of netball in the country, a sport that made noticeable strides to produce the Team of the Decade in the form of the senior national side despite facing numerous challenges.
The Gems, as the senior national netball team is affectionately known, began their journey in earnest at the beginning of the decade.
They first made some waves in 2015 when they were crowned African Champions in a tournament staged in Gaborone, Botswana. They were voted Team of the Year at the Annual National Sports Awards for their efforts.
In 2017 they emerged winners at the Hong Kong tri-nations and the Pent Series in Namibia.
They returned to the Pent Series in 2018 and finished second. However, they were not yet done as they went on to qualify for the World Cup for the first in that same year. The qualifiers were held concurrently with the Africa Championships.
The Gems, led by coach Lloyd Makunde, went into the championships with high hopes of qualifying for the global showpiece and they did just that.
They went for the Vitality Netball World Cup staged in Liverpool, England, in July last year. They had the underdogs tag in their maiden appearance at the big stage.
Out for the four African teams that included South Africa, Malawi and Uganda, Zimbabwe were the only team from the continent that were making their debut at the World Cup.
With no experience of having been at the World Cup, the Gems pulled a surprise to finish an incredible eighth out of the 16 countries that competed in Liverpool.
It was an impressive show for the side that had to overcome a number of challenges, including lack of resources and proper training facilities compared to their opponents at the event.
They managed to beat Sri Lanka in their first game at the World Cup. They then overpowered Northern Ireland and Barbados.
Sheer determination won them many fans at home and abroad, including neutrals that rallied behind the team at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. And for that, the Gems are The Herald’s Team of the Decade.
The award for the best Zimbabwe-born athlete representing a foreign nation goes to Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, who had an exceptional career with South Africa’s Springboks.
Mtawarira was part of the Springboks’ World Rugby World Cup success story when they claimed their third World Cup crown in Yokohama, Japan, last year.
He retired from international rugby last year in November and was this month named in the World Rugby’s Team of the Decade for between 2010 and 2020, confirming his status as one of the best players in the world.
Mtawarira retired as the third most capped Bok.
Former Warriors mentor Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa remains the legendary coach that returned to lead the senior football national team to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019.
The side may not have had a successful campaign but the veteran coach will go down in the history books of the country for his outstanding record with the Warriors.
Having led the team to their first Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 and coming back to achieve the same feat last year, remains one of his best achievements.
He also won the COSAFA with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018.
Chidzambwa remains among the top coaches in the country even after retirement from national duty.
The veteran coach truly deserves the Coach of the Decade award.