BY ADMIRE JAMU-MLAMBO
IT’S been 15 years since renowned Zimbabwean marathon runner and three-time Olympian Tendai Chimusasa’s glittering athletics career was brought to a grinding halt by injury at the age of 34.
But by that time Chimusasa’s middle and long distance running talent had plucked him from an obscure Nyanga rural institution Kazozo Secondary School, and taken him around the globe to some of the biggest and most glamorous cities and prestigious marathon events.
Turning pro as a 17-year-old greenhorn at the Dorowa 20km race in 1988, Chimusasa went on to conquer Zimbabwe and represent the country at three Olympic finals including a ninth place finish at Sydney 2000, which would be his swansong at the global games.
Now 49, Chimusasa is a serving member in the Zimbabwe National Army, as well as head coach of Black Rhinos Athletics Club.
The three-time Olympic runner took time to reflect on his glittering career in a wide-ranging interview with The Sports Hub.
“My journey to stardom all started in 1984 at Kazozo Secondary School in Nyanga. While I was doing Form One, my then class teacher George Chiremba identified me and from there I became a regular in representing Manicaland province,” Chimusasa said.
“The Dorowa 20km race was my first professional competition where I came second behind James Mutsimba (late) and I won $150 in prize money and those days it was a lot of money.
“Things got even better when I left Nyanga for Harare in search of employment since athletics was not regarded as a profession. Luckily, I again met Mutsimba (a soldier who turned out for Black Rhinos Athletic Club), who invited me to join their club at the Kopje in Harare.
“I vividly recall my first race turning out for Black Rhinos Athletic Club when I competed in the Bulawayo Bottlers Half Marathon. I came fifth and that was my last defeat in Zimbabwe,” recalled Chimusasa.
As his reputation continued to grow, Chimusasa began competing at events beyond the borders and his first was in Ethiopia in 1990 where he met one John Baily, who bought his first athletics gear.
That same year Chimusasa met a Portuguese man in Angola who would change his life.
“I had gone to Angola (1990) for a marathon race and I came second behind Addis Abebe. That was when the most important doors opened for my career apart from getting US$7 000 for my efforts.
“Portuguese coach Fothecum took me to his native country Portugal, where i was based in Lisbon, the capital city, and it opened a new chapter in my career.
While in Portugal, I competed in many races that included the Lisbon Half Marathon, which is the most popular race in that country, and won all of them,” the three-time Olympian revealed.
Chimusasa made his first Olympics appearance at Barcelona 1992 where he reached the semi-finals in both the 5 000 and 10 000-metre races.
After that, he packed his bags and left Portugal for Germany in 1993 and continued on his winning stride.
One of the highlights of Chimusasa’s career was when he carried the Zimbabwe flag at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Chimusasa also became the first Zimbabwean road runner to finish in the top 10 in the men’s marathon at the Olympic Games with a credible ninth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Games in Australia.
In a professional career spanning almost two decades, Chimusasa competed in world-class races that include the Lisbon Half Marathon (1992), Commonwealth Games (1994), Eurocross meeting in Luxembourg (1994 and 96), Olympic Games, Atlanta (1996), World Half Marathon Championships where he won the bronze medal, Hamburg Marathon, Germany (1998), World Half Marathon Championships (1998) and Olympic Games, Australia (2000).
But one competition holds a special place in his heart.
“The Hong Kong Marathon still lives in my memory. I went there as an underdog because Kenyans were always dominating the show. Even the media were focusing only on Kenyans and Ethiopians, nobody gave me a chance. I shocked everybody when I won the race,” Chimusasa said.
Like every other athlete, Chimusasa also had some low moments.
“It was very sad when I failed to finish a race at the Egypt All Africa Games in 1991 due to an injury after I ran barefooted. The failure to participate at the 1995 All Africa Games in Zimbabwe in 1995 due to some complications since I was based in Germany was another low moment.
A number of injuries in 2005 forced the army man to call time on his career and he decided to come home.
Born on January 28, 1971 in Nyanga, Chimusasa is the proud owner of several properties in Harare, three of them in Mandara, Hillside and Belvedere.
“I am very proud of what I achieved and got through the sport of athletics. I have managed to create my own pension that helps me to look after my family and parents despite retiring even though money can never be enough. I managed to buy several properties. During my spare time I play golf just for fun,” he said.
Chimusasa attributes discipline, determination and dedication for all of his success.