July 24, 1996
Fredericks content with low profile
By STEVE SIMMONS -- At The Olympics
ATLANTA -- Donovan Bailey is everywhere you look these days. In the headlines. On magazine covers. On so many different television commercials.
He is front and centre as the days to the 100-metre final grow ever closer, and that is precisely how Frankie Fredericks likes it.
"I am not the favorite,'' Fredericks said yesterday. "I am not the world champion. The spotlight is not on me. I have no Olympic dream. I have no pressure.''
Donovan Bailey is everywhere you look and on Saturday he may well be looking at the back of Frankie Fredericks, in second place, behind the likely winner of the gold medal in the 100 metres.
The past two times they raced, it was Fredericks - not Bailey - who won.
And yesterday, Fredericks dispelled any notion he would bypass the 100 metres to concentrate on his event of choice, the 200 metres. He will, in fact, attempt to win both - and not only does he hold back-to-back victories over Bailey, but in Oslo prior to the Olympics, he shocked the track world by beating American Michael Johnson in the 200.
"In Oslo,'' said Fredericks, the runner from little-known Namibia, "I ran the best race of my life. And before that, I wanted to give everything to the 200.
"But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be stupid to do that.
"I've run a 9.86 and a 9.87 this year (two fastest times in the world) and the world record is 9.85. I've run a 19.82 in the 200 and the world record is 19.66. Any scientist or mathematician can see my chances are better in the 100 than the 200.''
He comes to the Olympics without the publicity machines behind him. Already, Michael Johnson has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and of almost every pre-Olympic publication. In Canada, you have to be blind not to have seen Donovan Bailey somewhere during the past six months. But Fredericks, at 28, comes to the Olympics from a country that was once occupied under South African apartheid and with a perspective unique for any high-level athlete.
He grew up with no Olympic dream. He didn't know what the Olympics were, nor did he care. He had no television.
He had no freedom. He would wear a patch on his arm, indicative of his situation. If he didn't have the patch, demonstrating his supposed inferiority, he would be beaten and taken to jail.
"We were like a homeless state,'' he said. "We had our first democratic election in 1990. We are a small country with many problems.''
Namibia applied for Olympic entrance in 1992 and initially was turned down. The deadline had passed. But somehow, later, the rules were changed and Namibia was admitted. Fredericks was able to run.
He ran in both the 100 and the 200 and won two silver medals in Barcelona: no one, it seems, ever remembers who finished second.
And when he beat Michael Johnson in a recent race, this close to the Atlanta Olympics, he was so besieged with American interview requests that he now giggles about the situation.
"Most of the U.S. press said I came from nowhere,'' said Fredericks, who at 5-foot-10 and 154 pounds could emerge as the biggest star of these unruly Games. "They don't even know what country I'm from. It makes me laugh. I've been around a long time and I've always been in the medals.
"That's the problem with the North American media. If you follow athletics, I've been in the top four for many years but most of them don't follow athletics. And when you beat somebody like Michael, people suddenly get excited. I got all kinds of interview requests and all kinds of questions about my country. I tell them if you want to find out about me or my country, go to the library. It's all there.''
Fredericks was running in a South African meet in the 1980s when the women's coach at Brigham Young University first spotted him. He immediately called Willard Hirschi, the men's coach, and told him he'd found a good one.
Hirschi started exchanging letters with Fredericks, and it led to a scholarship offer to BYU, an almost all-white Mormon university which doesn't attract many American blacks.
Fredericks graduated first with a degree in computer science and later with an MBA from Brigham Young, but the business he wants to take care of first is on the track.
In one race, Donovan Bailey. In the other, Michael Johnson. "I think he's capable of winning both the 100 and the 200,'' Hirschi said. "Most athletes wouldn't be able to control their emotions well enough to get through that, but Frankie is different. He has the personality to do it. I can see it happening here, honest.''
Fredericks is not so bold as to predict his own victory. Not, as he says, when there is a world champion such as Bailey in the race.
"Donovan is still the world champion,'' Fredericks said. "And when you race against the world champion, there's always that little bit of extra adrenalin going. When I beat him the first time, people said he was cold, they said that a lot. But every time you race against him, you feel that extra adrenalin.''
He has trained for this race in tandem with Linford Christie, the 100-metre gold medallist in Barcelona, and, if anything, Christie has toughened him up. If Fredericks had a problem before, it was "I was too nice a guy.'' Christie, considered not a nice guy, has changed his racing approach.
"But if someone runs a good race and beats me, I'll congratulate him,'' Fredericks said. "But if I don't win, I'd like Linford to win. I'm always happy for the other guy.''
He just prefers that the other guy isn't Donovan Bailey.