World-class sprinter Frankie Fredericks experienced a most gratifying Independence Day on March 21 when his homeland, the former South African colony of Namibia, became a free nation. Next up for the man who has been billed as "the fastest man in Africa" is Olympic status -- or so he hopes.
Fredericks, 22, who ran the third-fastest 100-meter dash of 1989 (10.02 seconds), has become a force on the international circuit. Now he is awaiting a decision by the International Olympic Committee on whether representatives of Namibia can compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Until this summer, Fredericks -- and all other Namibian athletes -- were forbidden from competing internationally because he had competed in neighboring South Africa, a nation that has been barred from the Olympics because of its policy of apartheid, racial separation. Fredericks said he had little choice in the matter, as Namibia still was considered a South African province.
"People have always been telling me I'm South African because I live in Namibia," Fredericks said. "There's nothing I could have done. I just wanted to run and we were forced to run for South Africa."
So run he did. And fast.
Fredericks, now a senior at Brigham Young University, ran his 10.02 in a May 1989 meet just before the NCAA outdoor championships, a time surpassed that year only by American Leroy Burrell (9.94) and Jamaican Raymond Stewart (9.97). This year, he has come tantalizingly close to his personal best, running 10.03 in the Lahti Games in Helsinki.
But the only times that count for Fredericks will be in Barcelona. He expects the IOC decision -- which will come this month in Tokyo -- to be a positive one for his country.
"Being able to look forward to the Olympics will open doors for a lot of youngsters in Namibia," Fredericks said. "Competing internationally is great, but the Olympics are the best."
The Namibian Olympic Committee (NOC) has been formed and has received support from the Association of National Olympic Committees for Africa. But assistance from the IOC will be more difficult to secure.
"Before we can join, we have to have at least three Olympic sports already affiliated to their respective international bodies," Louis Muller, an NOC member, told the Times of Namibia in June. Three Namibian teams -- in cycling, volleyball and track and field -- have been granted associate membership in international bodies as an interim measure.
Muller said he hoped these sports could acquire full membership by the Tokyo meeting, thus facilitating Namibia's procurement of Olympic status.
Another popular sport in Namibia is soccer, Fredericks's "first love." He played on several club teams as a center-forward, as well as in high school. It was there that physical-education instructors introduced him to sprinting.
"They told me I had the talent and that I needed someone to exploit it," Fredericks said.
It was far from easy in the colony then known as Southwest Africa, since it had only one synthetic track. South Africa had controlled the area by mandate since 1920, when the Germans, fresh off defeat in World War I, were forced to relinquish it as part of the Treaty of Versailles.
South Africa maintained its separatist policies there and Fredericks's family was forced to live in the black township of Katutura, a section of the capital city, Windhoek.
Namibia, which has a population of 1.5 million, gained its independence from South Africa following a United Nations supervised election in November 1989. It became free upon completion of its constitution.
Independence? It was like a great big party, Fredericks said, one he was gratified to attend in March.
"People celebrated every day, especially after getting the right to vote at last," Fredericks said. "I remember the moment when they took down the South African flag and unfurled the Namibian flag. I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime."
Growing up, mathematics was Fredericks's other great love, and he developed a desire to study in the United States. After exploring possibilities at Penn State, Iowa State and California, he settled upon Brigham Young. An all-American in the 100 and 200 meters last spring, he helped the Cougars win the Western Athletic Conference track and field championship.
Despite his three years of study in this country, Fredericks does not consider himself Americanized.
"We are very westernized in Namibia," he said. "To me, there's no big difference. It's very agricultural, but it is far from a poor country."
Well, there is one big difference: There is nothing in Namibia that resembles American football.
Last year, BYU track coach Willard Hirschi took Fredericks to his first game. "The coach said we were going to a football game and I thought he meant soccer," Fredericks said. "The ball was funny looking and like a rugby ball. It's also rough, very violent."
Would he care to follow in the footsteps of storied track stars Renaldo Nehemiah and Ron Brown and give the NFL a try someday?
"No, no, no, not that. Too rough for me."
Fredericks is working toward a degree in computer science, and he expects to graduate in May. Then he'll work for the Rossing Uranium Mines in Namibia. And continue to run.
"I see the future as being bright for Namibia," he said. "There are many tribes here. If each wants power, like it's developing in South Africa, there will be problems. But if we work together as Namibians, then it will be bright."