Zimbabwe won its first gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics when the women’s hockey team dazzled everyone and scooped the top accolade. It was such a glorious moment for a country that had just won its independence.
The 1980 Moscow Olympics marked a memorable aspect in the sporting history of Zimbabwe. It was wonderful, enjoyable and everyone knew of how well the Zimbabwean women had performed in field hockey. The Olympics that year had been marred by heavy boycotts especially from the United States of America and other Western powers. The Zimbabwe hockey team was assembled hastily, and it compromised of sixteen women all from the white minority group in order to fill the gaps created by the boycotts.
The team had no experience, and it was ill-prepared as it headed into the competition. Much to everyone’s surprise, the team performed impressively in the group stages. The success of the famed Golden Girls has been termed by many an “irresistible fairy story.” It spoke of a group of determined women who defied the odds and achieved the success no one expected them to achieve.
Zimbabwe had been barred from the previous three Olympic games prior to 1980 because of political reasons. The 1980 were the first to feature women’s field hockey, and the first to feature Zimbabwe with a new name. After beating Poland and the USSR and drawing with Czechoslovakia and India, the Zimbabweans won the competition on the final day with a 4–1 victory over Austria. Dubbed the “Golden Girls” by the media of Zimbabwe, they were met by cheering crowds on their return home, and were briefly national celebrities. Zimbabwe did not win another Olympic medal until 2004 (through Kirsty Coventry).
One of the ladies who was part of the team called Sarah English had an interview with one of Zimbabwe’s newspapers about two years ago and she narrated how she vividly remembers everything. She said that the team was inexperienced and was not familiar with the artificial turf they played on, as they were used to playing on grass.
“At that time Zimbabwe didn’t have its own national anthem. They played the Olympic anthem that’s all. But there was the Zimbabwean flag and we were proud. Walking into the opening and closing ceremonies was an incredible experience. It was an honour to have represented the nation. Before the first match there had not been any expectation from our opponents and even ourselves. Just being there representing our country was the ultimate that any athlete desires whether you win or lose a medal,” narrated Sarah English.
The medal became a huge delight for the country considering that it was won when Zimbabwe was undergoing a new political transition that was particularly aimed at achieving unity among everyone in the country regardless of race, gender and so forth. The Golden Girls, as English intimated, where received with a heroes’ welcome when they came back to Zimbabwe at the Harare International Airport. Besides from being Zimbabwe’s first gold medal, it was in actual fact Zimbabwe’s first medal.
The Golden Girls impressed everyone, and theirs is a story of success despite many odds that were stacked against them. Some of the Golden Girls still reside in Zimbabwe and they regularly meet.
I first published this article on africanexponent.com