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Fast Company
Tim Layden
July 29, 1996
Frankie Fredericks of Namibia is the leading man in a star-studded cast heading for the starting blocks of the 100 meters in Atlanta
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July 29, 1996

Fast Company

Frankie Fredericks of Namibia is the leading man in a star-studded cast heading for the starting blocks of the 100 meters in Atlanta

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At the age of 13, Fredericks enrolled at Dobra, a segregated Catholic school 20 miles outside Windhoek renowned for its soccer teams. "You just didn't lose at Dobra," says Fredericks. Three years later Fredericks was offered an academic scholarship at Concordia, a newly formed (and also segregated) private school in Windhoek proper. The education was wonderful, the soccer terrible. "We would lose 4-0, and my teammates would be laughing," says Fredericks. He made the switch to track. "He could already outrun any defender on the soccer field, and he was a very bad loser, which is why team sports were not best for him," says Tjongarero. Concordia track coach Koos van Staden would drive Fredericks to a synthetic track in Windhoek, the only such surface in all of Namibia.

In his final year at Concordia he was the South African schools champion at both 100 and 200 meters. Scholarships were tendered by South African universities, but Fredericks accepted an offer—one of only five given to Namibian high school students—to work in a management training program for the Rossing Uranium Mine. He spent the spring of 1987 working in the coastal city of Swakopmund, where he continued to train. At the South African junior track championships that same year, he met Patrick Shane, an assistant coach at Brigham Young, who put Fredericks in touch with Hirschi (who was then BYU's sprint coach and is now the school's head coach). In the fall of 1987, Fredericks enrolled at BYU, bankrolled in part by a track scholarship and in part by Rossing (on the agreement that he would return to work for the company, which he does, as a marketing associate). He earned a computer science degree in four years and, in 1994, added an M.B.A. In 1991 he became the first sprinter in 13 years—and the first born outside the U.S.—to win the 100 and 200 meters at the NCAA championships. He still lives most of the year in Provo.

During Fredericks's first three years at BYU, Namibia was part of South Africa, which was banned from international competition. At the end of the college season, when elite athletes customarily compete in Europe, Fredericks would return to Namibia to work for the mine. "If there was a choice between a test and a practice at BYU, it was an easy choice," he says. "If I fail athletically, who cares? I could go home to a good job. If I fail academically, I have no job and no life."

This situation changed with Namibia's independence on March 21, 1990, and with the country's admission to the Olympic Games in Barcelona two years later. With outside competition, Fredericks began to improve, peaking with a gold medal in the 200 at the 1993 world championships. There were, however, no outward signs that Fredericks was on the verge of dominating the 100 meters and challenging Johnson in the deuce. "I've been very surprised, and I don't think I'm alone," says rival Mitchell.

Clearly, Fredericks's association with the tough-minded Christie, which began in the fall of 1994, has helped elevate him. Fredericks is a sweet sort of fellow. "Doesn't have a menacing personality," says Mitchell. Christie, though, has given him an edge. "I think Frank being around Linford is like Rodman being around Jordan," says Hirschi. "Frank always worked hard, but sometimes you have to see somebody who really works hard to understand." Says Fredericks, "Being around Linford has taught me how intense you have to be."

Training with Linford also carries baggage. "Frankie says training with Linford has helped him," says Mitchell. "Only thing I noticed is Frankie has more muscle mass, he's bigger." Since Christie has often been accused of using steroids—though he has never tested positive—the implication is clear: Fredericks must be using them too. Fredericks says, simply and evenly, "This isn't important enough for me to cheat and put drugs into my body."

Fredericks is sitting in a small, furnished apartment near downtown Tallahassee, his retreat in the 10 days before arriving at the Olympics. The isolation here suits him. Thunder warns of a storm in the distance, not unlike what Fredericks will face in Atlanta. "I run to win but not for the hype," he says. "It's for my own satisfaction, for how hard I've worked."

The rain comes now, falling in thick, warm sheets against the building. Fredericks stares at the deluge and weighs the burden of his own expectations. "Some people have to win," he says. "I don't have to win, I want to win."

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