Namibian sprinter Christine Mboma has been voted the BBC African Sports Personality of the Year for 2021, becoming the first female winner in the award’s long history.
The 18-year-old was the first Namibian woman to ever win an Olympic medal when she took silver in a star-studded 200m final in Tokyo last year.
“I feel great and really proud to be a Namibian,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
“I dedicate this BBC award to all Namibians. This is [a reward] for all the hard work I have done.”
Mboma saw off Kenyan runners Eliud Kipchoge and Faith Kipyegon, South African para-athlete Ntando Mahlangu, Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker to win the award.
She becomes the second Namibian athlete to be recognised in such fashion, after sprinter Frankie Fredericks won the BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1993.
This award later became the BBC African Footballer of the Year prize, which ran from 2001 until 2018 when the BBC changed the award back to its original purpose by reflecting the diversity of sports across the continent.
“It is always great to put my country on the spot. I always make my country proud and I thank all the Namibians who voted for me. They will go crazy when they hear this,” she said upon learning of her prize.
In addition to her Olympic silver, Mboma was also a Diamond League champion and Under-20 gold medallist over 200m, and broke the Under-20 record over the distance several times last year.
All those fastest times came shortly after Mboma was barred from her preferred event, the 400m, in July, after being found to have overly-high levels of testosterone.
The sport’s governing body, World Athletics, bars all athletes with naturally-high levels of testosterone from contesting any races between 400m and the mile, arguing that it gives such athletes an unfair advantage.
“I felt disappointed but I did not give up,” she says of the time.
“I didn’t expect [the rest of 2021 would go so well] after what happened but I am really proud of myself for all the achievements I have done. It was very difficult.
“My achievement will motivate young athletes from Africa, and here in Namibia, to try to do their best and to work hard in their dream.”
Last week, Mboma was involved in a car crash when travelling with her coach Henk Botha from their base in Grootfontein to the Namibian capital Windhoek.
Botha says Mboma was lucky not to have suffered any damage to her eyesight after the car’s windscreen was smashed by a flock of guinea fowl, peppering the athlete with shards of glass.
“One of the guinea fowl almost went through the windscreen into Christine’s face,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“She was full of glass pieces on her face and I took them out piece by piece. It could have been severe but we are very blessed to be safe and ok.”
Botha, a former captain of Namibia’s rugby team, turned to brighter matters when addressing the rise of Mboma, who has overcome serious hardship in her life to become such a success.
When she was 13, her disabled mother – who headed up the single-parent family – died during childbirth, leaving Mboma to look after her two younger siblings.
Meanwhile, the poverty she grew up in meant she slept in a bed without a mattress, in a room she shared with her grandmother, until athletics came calling.
“It was a very strong field and we are very surprised because all the contestants are superstars of African sport in my view,” he said.
“To be part of any award from the BBC is just out of this world for a small little place like Namibia and for a young girl that not more than three years ago ran barefoot in the sand.”
Mboma first wore a pair of athletics spikes when she was 15, just three years before her remarkable rise saw her win the Olympic silver that has resulted in being voted, by the public, as the BBC African Sports Personality of 2021. (BBC)