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Merlin Diamond sparkles in 2012 campaign



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Merlin Diamond visits the UK for the first time

By Matthew Pinsent
BBC News

Seeing her at the Olympic Park in London it is easy to forget that Merlin Diamond is a young woman whose dream of becoming an Olympic sprinter has been forged in the crucible of tragedy.

For the last 20 years Merlin's mother Aloisha has worked for and become part of the Davin family in the Namibian capital Windhoek. Growing up, Merlin played with Herman and Jeanne Davin's two daughters - Janine and Suzelle.

They all excelled in sport but Merlin is the one Jeanne Davin calls "the cheetah of Namibia".

Sadly, in 2006 Janine and Suzelle were killed in a car crash. Almost immediately Herman and Jeanne established the Janine and Suzelle Davin Sports Trust to support the country's aspiring athletes, of which Merlin is one.

Now Merlin is in London as part of the British Council and BBC World Class's school-twinning project.

It is Merlin's first visit to Britain and I remember how shy she was in Namibia and how foreign the routine of television was to her; endless set-up shots, pretending that the camera doesn't exist when it is right in your face and answering the same question over and over, trying to make it fresh.

Merlin Diamond by Paul Ivan Harris
Merlin Diamond has 18 months to conjure up the times needed to qualify for the London Olympics

At school, her classmates started calling her "Mrs BBC" after a few hours and it was obviously something she was tentative about.

I wonder how she will react when she sees the cameras in an alien land. But when we meet at the Olympic Park and I see her beaming smile, my worries dissipate.

It is an exciting opportunity for me to personally give Merlin a taste of what is in store for her in 2012. And as I guide her through the stadium, showing her the changing rooms and the hall where the indoor practice track is going to be, her eyes light up.

I inquire about her pre-race routine, asking her what her nerves are like. "Bad!" she shoots back instantly.

When we finally step out into the rain-drenched main arena, her pupils dilate and, grasping for the appropriate words, she utters; "It's so big. I can feel already my tension building up".

Like a tourist, she whips out the camera and we start snapping a few photographic keepsakes. If anything it seems bizarre. Merlin is no tourist, she is one of the fastest women in Africa.

Scottish bond

After our tour of the stadium, Merlin and her teacher head to Glasgow by train to visit her "twin" school.

Merlin is by no means a star outside of Namibia however at Calderglen High School, she is welcomed as a returning champion.

"We've never met anyone as famous as you," claims the head teacher. The pupils at this school have done their homework on Merlin and they have certainly embraced the Olympic spirit.

The most striking thing about Merlin's visit to the UK is the way she has bonded with its people so easily. As part of the school-twinning project, Merlin has been partnered Gillian from Calderglen High School.

I got this cold feeling go through my whole body, you know for a moment I felt I was already supposed to get ready to compete
Merlin Diamond

Gillian, is a keen footballer and over the course of the few days that she and Merlin spend together, they become inseparable.

"I probably know more about her than some of my best friends," Gillian says.

Merlin also seems glad that she has found a kindred spirit; "After the first moment we greeted each other we've been stuck together the whole time".

The final leg of her whistle-stop tour of the UK, is a short trip to Scotstoun Sports Campus. Based in the West End of Glasgow, it is where Team Namibia will set up their training base ahead of the Games.

With the sun dipping in the sky, Merlin heads out onto the track and in a moment the prospect of Olympic competition becomes a reality.

"I got this cold feeling go through my whole body, you know for a moment I felt I was already supposed to get ready to compete," she says.

Leaving family

Having said that, there are another 18 months until the Olympics and there are many difficult decisions she has to make before then.

When I met her last year, she was at school, thinking about American universities, trying like many other aspiring athletes to marry up the demands of her sport with the realities of life.

Now that she has left school, Merlin may well postpone her academic studies and head to Mauritius where there are better facilities.

Having already lost two "sisters", it is inevitable that Merlin will now have to leave the rest of her family behind.

"If you're in search of a better life and you want to get something out of what you want to do, you have to go out, you know, sacrifice a lot of things in order to get what you want," says Merlin.

It is a huge decision for a teenager but Merlin wants to be a medal-winner, not just for herself, but for her country. "I want to get Namibia a medal so badly, you know put Namibia at the top", she says.

With the wind whistling through an empty stadium, a lone figure clad in a bright orange and blue tracksuit can be seen slowly gliding towards the sun as it melts into the Glasgow skyline.

Despite the shyness, despite her casual demeanour, beneath that tracksuit is indeed a cheetah.

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With only 18 months to prepare for the London Olympics, Merlin Diamond is beginning to feel the pressure building



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see also
Loneliness of an Olympic hopeful
20 Jul 11 |  World Olympic Dreams
Diamond sparkles in 2012 campaign
26 Jul 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Diamond under pressure
07 Feb 11 |  World Olympic Dreams


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