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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK

Geldenhuys on guard for Games

Gharde Geldenhuys first honed her gymnastics skills in a mechanic's garage in her home town.

In her formative years, she had to make do with some equipment set up in the makeshift gym in Swakopmund, Namibia.

But the 20-year-old sufficiently picked up the tools of the trade to become Africa's sole gymnastics representative at the Sydney Olympics.

She told BBC Sport Online: "It was difficult starting where I did but it was worth it just to get to the opening ceremony at the Olympics."

Geldenhuys failed to upset the favourites in Australia and had to make do with 64th place overall as the first African gymnast at the Games since the Seventies.

This summer, her attentions will turn to Manchester for her second Commonwealth Games, an altogether better experience than the Olympics.

"Most people I tell I'm from Namibia think it's somewhere in Asia while hardly anyone's heard of the Commonwealth Games"
Gharde Geldenhuys

She confessed: "I have much fonder memories of the Commonwealth Games. It was on a much more personal level with the athletes and I loved it out in Kuala Lumpur.

"I can't wait for Manchester - especially as I've never been there."

A current student of psychology/physical therapy at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, she is used to her fellow students being unaware of her whereabouts.

"Most people I tell I'm from Namibia think it's somewhere in Asia while hardly anyone's heard of the Commonwealth Games," she added.

So much so that an article about her on the university website talked about her experiences at the "Common-Law Games".

But on campus, Geldenhuys seems like the typical American student.

"I picked up an American accent within three months," she revealed, "so everyone just assumes I'm American.

"I pick up accents really easily. I went to London for a few months and came back with a British accent. Who knows what'll happen in Manchester."

Sportswoman shortlist

Her chameleon-like mutterings have led to teasing from her close friends back in Namibia.

But, following her achievements, she remains unperturbed.

Such achievements have even seen her elevated to the same stage as Namibia's most famous sporting export, sprinter Frankie Fredericks.

Geldenhuys made the shortlist for Namibian sportswoman of the year while Fredericks tends to be, more often than not, the winner of the men's prize.

Of her fellow Namibian, she said: "To see someone like that performing for our country is a real boost to everyone else. He has achieved so much success it's just incredible."

And like Fredericks, she'll be hoping to put a spanner in the works this summer.

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