This is an extraordinary time in Ananias Shikongo’s remarkable life.
The 30-year-old this week has been dusting off his spikes at the ongoing Dubai World Para Athletics Grand Prix, six months since storming into the record books as Namibia’s first male gold medallist, at either the Paralympics or Olympics, in the 200 metres at Rio 2016.
Not bad for a country which has also produced fellow sprint great Frankie Fredericks.
His status as T11’s – classification for totally blind – star attraction is not the only thing which has markedly changed. Transformative success on the grandest stage has meant home is no longer a metal shack in the Katutura township, as he consigns “living that struggling life” to the past.
“So far when I came back from Rio, I started to become a famous person in my country,” said Shikongo, whose winning time of 22.44 seconds in South America set a new Paralympic benchmark. “I have given some motivational speeches around schools in the country and I have won sport awards in Namibia.
“This has really helped me to change my life. I can now be on my own, even to buy my own car so that I can go to training.
“When I won that medal, I didn’t initially get a response from our government, only from our standard bank. When they saw me in my ghetto life with my medals, they saw I was sleeping in the ghetto, and they said they would buy me a house with their own funds.
“I am going to be living in a brick house, but I will stay in town. I am no longer living that struggling life.”
A shooting accident with a bow and arrow cost Shikonga his left eye aged three, with a kick from a donkey doing the same to his right when he was just six. Redoubtable spirit has seen him transform these tragedies into becoming 2015 All Africa Games champion in the 100m, 200m and 400m plus being a twin World Championships silver medallist, among other successes, prior to his momentous run in Rio last September.
“I was really targeting to destroy most of my competitors,” said Shikongo of his landmark result. “I was really targeting the Brazilians [Felipe Gomes and Daniel Silva], so I was really looking to destroy them in their own motherland.”
A different guide was at Shikongo’s side in Dubai on Monday as he won a two-man race, with Even Tjiviju currently absent after the 200m gold and bronzes in the 100m and 400m in Rio.
“We have a lack of people loving and guiding,” said Shikongo.
“You can work with someone and they are shy. I decided to train some of the guys and others in Namibia.
“This will help blind people to not go through difficult years.”
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Salman Hashimi is hoping his Elite Squash March tournament title is just the start of more trophies to come in the UAE after moving permanently from Pakistan last year.
The 21-year-old enjoyed much success playing in his homeland as well as abroad, reaching a career high of No2 in the Pakistan junior rankings as well as 16th in the senior category.
A remarkable achievement especially considering he did it without the backing of a sponsor. Eager to test himself on a more competitive stage, he moved to Dubai 12 months ago.
Since then, the only way has been up. He is now a coach at Elite Squash, passing on his knowledge as well as playing in various competitions across the Emirates.
Friday’s 11-9, 11-6 victory over Tony Gumbrell at Emirates Golf Club was the third time he reigned supreme in the country and he hopes it’s a sign of things to come.
“This is my first tournament I have won since I’ve joined Elite Squash and it was an amazing exp-erience for me,” said Hashimi, a former runner-up in the Doha Junior Open.
“It was a great competition to be part of. It was difficult because there were some strong players and it meant I had to play some tough games but it was nice to come through. This victory will give me good confidence for the rest of the tournaments that I will play in,” added Hashimi, whose next competitive outing will be in Abu Dhabi in four weeks’ time.
Other winners in the tournament were Abdulbasit Khan and Seif Sameh. Khan claimed the Group B prize after defeating Kareem Bibi 2-0, while Sameh maintained a 100 per cent winning record, including a triumph over his brother Zein, to top the round-robin Group C.
In the ladies event, Andrea Wilkins held off Sandra Albinson in straight games to win 11-9, 11-9.
In the beginners’ level, Karima Al Kaisa was playing the sport for the first time and came away with the trophy after winning 11-8, 11-9. In the Under-11s, Kairav Banerjee took home the top prize after heading the group with 43 points while Serag El Din Ahmed settled for runner-up spot.
The competition, which attracted more than 40 participants across the adults’ and children’s categories, was the first of three in this season’s Elite Squash series. The remaining events are set to be held in June and October.
Elite Squash CEO Neil Young was pleased with the performances he saw in the series opener.
“It went really well and there were exceptional displays from all the participants,” he said. “It was a good way for the coaching clients to see their progress in competitions.”