Matthew Pinsent meets Merlin Diamond who hopes to become Namibia's first female Olympic medallist
By Matthew Pinsent
There are many remarkable things about Namibia. The desert is stunning, the wildlife allegedly rivals Kenya's, the people have carried off independence and integration with a relaxation that most of Africa must envy enormously.
For me, it is the stars that will stay with me. Even in Windhoek, even battling against the city lights that most astronomers would scoff at, they were wondrous.
I had travelled to Windhoek to follow Merlin Diamond for a few days. Merlin is Namibia's fastest female sprinter and she is only 18-years-old.
That might not be a particular achievement but she is a brilliant subject for a film. Engaging, with obviously no media training; innocent without being naïve and determined without the arrogance that pollutes so many sportspeople.
MERLIN DIAMOND - THE FACTS
Region: Windhoek, Namibia
Career highlights: Winner, 100m, 200m sprints, 2010 National Athletics Championships, Namibia
Indeed, the arrogance was entirely in my camp when I totally failed to recognise the person who quietly checked me in to the hotel for my stay.
Yes, I was tired. Yes, it was late and Merlin is not the type to pull anyone up with a "do you know who I am?" But it should not have come as a surprise to find her working in the hotel as it turns out she almost grew up there.
For the last 20 years Merlin's mother Aloisha has worked for and become part of the Davin family - she now runs their guesthouse and 18 years ago it seemed natural to bring her young daughter to work.
Herman and Jeanne Davin were themselves starting their family with two daughters Janine and Suzelle with whom Merlin grew up.
In their teenage years, the Davin daughters each found their sporting passion. Suzelle excelled at tennis - qualifying for Junior Wimbledon - while Janine, like her mother, played hockey for Namibia and Merlin found athletics.
Then, in late 2006, the story took a horrendous turn. Suzelle and Janine were killed in a car accident on one of the long desert roads between Windhoek and the coast. In one fell swoop the lives of the Davins and the Diamonds were altered.
BBC World Class is a project uniting schools around the world through World Olympic Dreams
Merlin talks openly about missing them, looking for them at the finish of her races, cheering her on from where they always used to stand. Jeanne and Herman refer to Merlin's surname as a Davin-Diamond hybrid.
Merlin now benefits from the Janine and Suzelle Davin Sports Trust that their parents set up after the crash. It helps dozens of Namibian sportspeople trying to make the step from good in Namibia to good on the world stage.
That was a journey completed by Frankie Fredericks, the 200m silver medallist in Atlanta in 1996. He remains Namibia's only Olympic medallist to date - a piece of history that Merlin is determined to change.
She trains in Windhoek's national stadium after her school work has been finished. Her day starts at 5am in the dorm room that her school provides, before lunch she completes a class rota that most children would consider a full day and then it is off to the stadium.
It is windswept and, to my eye, pretty bleak but she does not mind because she is being driven by the idea of winning medals in London.
If she does that then there will be another star to go and admire in Windhoek.
We will be following the progress of a selection of athletes and we would like to hear from you.
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