United States-based sprinter Gabriel Mvumvure became the first Zimbabwean track and field athlete to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games after achieving an Olympic qualifying time on his way to winning the 100m at the Battle on the Bayou meet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Saturday. BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

The 27-year-old, who was in his first competitive race of the outdoor season, ran an early season best time of 10,14 seconds, which is just inside the Olympic qualifying time of 10,16 seconds.

He finished ahead of University of Alabama’s Sudanese sprinter Ahmed Ali (10,27) and his protégé Tinashe Mutanga (10,29), who is on an athletics scholarship at Louisiana State University (LSU).

Having been sidelined for the better part of last season due to illness and injuries, Mvumvure said although he was happy to qualify for the Rio Olympics, he would continue working hard to consistently dash the 100m under 10 seconds.

The former African junior champion has a personal best time of 9,98 seconds.

“I give all the glory to God for this performance, last year was really tough for me, but I never gave up even when everything was going wrong. I can’t even say that this year has been going perfect because I still have battles I am fighting, however, I will trust God’s process because he will never fail me,” Mvumvure said.

“It feels rewarding to get the Olympic standard in my season opener, but I will continue to work hard. I should not be complacent because I feel like there is more work to be done. I would like to run sub 10 consistently this year because I know it’s going to take sub 10 to make that final in Rio,” he said.

Mvumvure was full of praises for compatriot Mutanga, who also has a good chance of qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games in both the 100 and 200m races.

Mutanga became one of the 10 fastest 100-metre sprinters in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) this season when he crossed the finish line in 10,29 seconds for third place in the event.

“I’m happy with his performance. He is two hundredths of a second shy of running the Olympic standard in the 200m. He also ran a personal best in the 100 metres on Saturday and I believe he will continue to improve. We have the same coach here at LSU (Dennis Shaver) and he’s such a maestro at grooming athletes, so I am confident that Mutanga will run the Olympic standard soon. I am his accountability partner on the sidelines, since he’s still in school and I can say I’m very proud of his progression,” he said.

Mvumvure said the emergence of Mutanga and others showed that Zimbabwe had enough depth to come up with a 4×100 relay team capable of qualifying for the Olympics.

“It’s safe to even say we have good enough people to make a 4x100m relay for Zimbabwe,” said Mvumvure, who was part of the 4x100m that won a bronze medal at the 2007 All-Africa Games in Algeria.

“I just hope we can get funding or sponsorship to run a few relays together so we can get the Olympic standard as well. I believe it would be such a great story to put together probably the first ever Zimbabwean 4x100m relay at the Olympics,” he said.

In addition to Mvumvure and Mutanga the relay team could also include fellow US-based star Ngonidzashe Makusha, who holds the national 100m record of 9.89 seconds.

Michael Songore, who has been a key member of the Western Kentucky University relay team which qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships last season could be a possible addition to the relay team.

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