By Tadious Manyepo
Artwell Mandaza, the greatest sprinter to emerge from Zimbabwe who once ran a world-record equalling 9.9 seconds in the 100m, has died.
He was 73.
His son, Durai confirmed the death.
The Sport and Recreation Commission yesterday led the nation in mourning the iconic sprint star.
The “Mhangura Meteor’, as Mandaza was affectionately known, rose to fame in 1970 when he ran a world record-equalling time of 9.9s in the 100 metres at the South African Bantu Championships in Welkom.
Although not recognised, that time was the world’s joint fastest along that of Cuba’s Pablo Montes.
But the official best time attached to the Zimbabwean in the 100m was 10.2s which put him as the 11th fastest athlete in the world in the same year.
He would be voted the Sportsperson of the Year that very year, becoming the first black person to win the honour.
This is the same year he broke the 100m, 200m and 400m records.
“It is with a deep sense of sadness and sorrow that we have received the news of the passing of one our greatest athletes ever to emerge from our beloved country Atwell Mandaza who passed on earlier today (yesterday),” SRC director general, Prince Mupazviriho, said.
”Artwell made an indelible mark during his era in the pre- independence period where he distinguished himself as a highly-talented athlete who went on to become a sprint specialist and a champion of that time.
“Artwell, though he was retired, was one of the first inductees of the Zimbabwe National Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 alongside such other athletes like George “Mastermind” Shaya, Nick Price, Dave Houghton, among others.
”This was in recognition of his immense contribution to the role that he played in athletics and sport in general.
“The sport sector and, in particular, athletics is now poorer without Artwell as it had gained immensely from his experience and exposure over the years.
“On behalf of the SRC, we would like to convey our deep sympathies to his family, beloved ones and the Athletics family at large.
”May his dear departed soul rest and anchor in eternal peace, we shall forever cherish his contributions to the growth and development of athletics in Zimbabwe.”
Mandaza, born January 4, 1946, never took athletics seriously until he was 20 when Mhangura Mine coach Dave Klinker spotted him.
In 1972, Mandaza was sent for an attachment in Germany and qualified for the Olympics held in Munich.
Unfortunately, politics put paid to his dreams of participating in Munich as Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) was excluded from the fiesta following a vote by the International Olympic Committee.
One of the episodes Mandaza will be remembered for was when he was involved in a race against a horse at Borrowdale Race Course in 1983.
Interestingly, by then he had already quit active athletics and coaching at Trojan Mine when he decided to race Hi Chester, a juvenile champion.
Hi Chester was ridden by Gordon Whyte and the event also acted as a fundraiser for Team Zimbabwe headed for the Los Angeles Olympics the following year.
The event was well attended with government dignitaries led by then Youth, Sport and Culture minister Simba Makoni.
Former National Amateur Athletics Association of Zimbabwe president, Robert Mutsauki, described Mandaza as an athlete-par-excellence.
“He mentored me personally. I still remember that when I did my first coaching course, he took me under his own roof in Bindura where I stayed with his family while he mentored me,” said Mutsauki.
“He was, by far, one of, if not the most polished personality in our sporting fraternity. We have lost an icon. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
”Our prayers are with his family and the whole sporting fraternity.”
Mutsauki recalls, in particular, when he and his board had to put their weight behind Mandaza to retain his post as the athletics coach ahead of the All-Africa Games in Zimbabwe in 1995.
Then, the board was under pressure to relieve him of his post and appoint a Cuban mentor.
But in the Games, where Mandaza was bestowed with the honour of lighting the opening flame, the icon went on to lead his athletics team to seven medals (a gold, two silver and four bronze).
Mourners are gathered at his rural home, Nzvimbo Village, Chiweshe. The Chronicle