Born, raised and schooled in Zimbabwe, Brian Dzingai is an Olympic finalist and one of this country’s great track athletes over the sprint distances. SSN caught up with Brian to reminisce about his school days and the sporting rivalries between Zim schools. He also discusses his greatest sporting achievements and the challenges he has had to overcome in his sporting career. Brian shares his thoughts on being a good role model for the current school going sports people and on being a student-athlete.
SSN:What schools did you attend (in Zimbabwe)?
Brian: Queensdale Primary School and St George’s College in Harare.
SSN: St George’s College is a respected sporting school that produces well-rounded athletes, is that the reason you went there?
Brian: To be honest it wasn’t the reason I attended St George’s College. My parents wanted me to attend a good academic institution. It came down to Peterhouse Boys’ and St George’s. I wanted to attend Peterhouse simply because two of my cousins, who were the same age as me, were going to attend Peterhouse. My parents overruled me and sent me to St George’s College. The best decision ever made for me.
SSN: What are your earliest sporting memories?
Brian: I have no early sporting memories in track and field as I always hated the physical toll that one takes during the actual race, especially the 200m. My earliest memories are from playing soccer and rugby, which I enjoyed extremely. My best soccer memory was beating Prince Edward (PE) in 6th Form at St George’s and I scored the first goal. That year was also the first year that anyone had beaten me on the track in six years and it happened to be a PE boy. As the soccer match was about to start, there was a lot of taunting directed towards me in relation to that (loss). Immediately upon scoring I rushed to the PE sideline and let them know that their words were not going to break me.
SSN: Who were your sporting heroes as a youngster growing up?
Brian: Maurice Greene without a doubt was my sporting hero and it was amazing when I turned professional, to be attending the same competitions with these guys in 2005.
SSN: Did you always run the 100m and 200m sprints?
Brian: Yes I did.
SSN: What was your greatest sporting achievement at school?
Brian: Wow, great question. I never made a Zimbabwe schools team in any sport. I don’t think there is any particular achievement that stands out, but my best memory was from 6th Form when I had lost my individual races in the 100m and 200m and by the end of the day, we had lost the championship to PE. But the U18 4x100m relay team kept it together and we beat PE. It wasn’t so much the winning of that race, but what happened after. As soon as we crossed the Finish line, we rushed to the stands and the four of us, led the school in one of our signature war cries.
SSN: Would you say you were always a natural sportsman?
Brian: Yes, I think so. Sports were always of second nature to me.
SSN: When did you realise you had a real talent?
Brian: After my freshman year in college when I was ranked Number 1 in the NCAA Division 2 ranking and top 10 in the NCAA Division 1 rankings, and also qualified with an A standard for the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. This realisation is also part of my most favourite sporting memories at school.
SSN: What are your worst sporting memories at school?
Brian: Losing my first race in 6th Form when winning for me was routine. It was a character building lesson for me.
SSN: What other sports did you play and to what standard/level?
Brian: First team soccer, U16 rugby, and leisure tennis in the 3rd term when I didn’t want to be physically active.
SSN: Who was your most inspirational sports teacher/coach?
Brian: Without a doubt, Peter Turner at St George’s College. He was so, so tough with me and made me use my talent at a young age.
SSN: Do you think you are a good role model and how important is it for you to be a role model for young sportspeople?
Brian: I think that is for people to decide and not me. I try to lead by example and I think it is very important for me to be a good role model. I think what I have achieved on a global stage clearly shows that any young person from Zimbabwe can have the same dreams. And with the right focus, guidance and a bit of luck, impossible is nothing. One of the worst mistakes we can make as individuals, is to give anything less than our best because that is sacrificing our God-given gifts.
SSN: What is the best advice about sport that you were given when you were young?
Brian: Do your best and have fun all the time.
SSN: What advice would you give to any young aspiring sports people today?
Brian: Education, education, education is key. Without a sound educational background, the opportunity to attend university in the US would never have opened up for me. School always has to be a number one priority. Once I was in the US, I was a student-athlete. Please note the order, student-athlete. Student first and an athlete second. Without an education, we have no options in life whatsoever. I managed to get my BSc in Accounting, another BSc in Finance and also received my MBA from Florida State University. I created options for myself.
SSN: Were you ever told you weren’t going to be a success and how did you cope with that?
Brian: Yes I was, by one individual but I used that to light-up my fire inside. Standing at 1.67m, I have battled “Goliaths” all my life and have been victorious. It’s a simple formula for me. I live by “ex fide fiducia” – from faith comes confidence.
SSN: How much did you enjoy the rest of your schooldays?
Brian: Those were some of the best years of my life, in boarding school at St George’s. To this day, I am still great friends with a lot of those guys (I was in boarding with).
SSN: What other career path do you think you would have taken had you not been an athlete?
Brian: I was destined to be a Chartered Accountant but I gave that up to focus on my athletic career.
SSN: What sacrifices (if any) have you made to get to the top?
Brian: I am not sure if I ever got to the summit but being an athlete is a lifestyle. It is not a two-hour activity on a daily basis. I had to be on a strict diet, get enough rest during the day and sleep-wise, resist going out with friends late at night, avoid alcohol, attend rehabilitation every day, and just generally take good care of my body. It was a lifestyle and not something that I just did when I felt like it. So the sacrifices made, encompassed my whole lifestyle.
SSN: How important are schools in the development of sport and what can be done to improve sport in school?
Brian: Schools are very important in sport development. I think it is easier to teach fundamentals at a younger age and if done the right way, the hope is that by the time kids get to college/university level, the fundamentals are of second nature to them. Coaches at different schools have to take core courses to give them the basic knowledge of the fundamentals of sport or else kids will learn and retain bad habits which will be detrimental to their progression.
SSN: What and if anything do you still hope to achieve in sport?
Brian: My time in the sport is done now. Track and field for me exceeded expectations. Coming into it, it was a way for me to get my education partially paid for, and then it paid for most of my education, then it gave me three degrees, then it allowed me to make a profession out of it and travel to over 40 different countries globally. Making an Olympic Final was just the cherry-on-top. There is nothing more I can ask for from the sport on a personal/individual basis.
SSN: Now back in 2008 you made history at the Beijing Olympic Games by racing with the current fastest man on earth and coming fourth? Do you see your achievements being emulated by another Zimbabwean any time soon?
Brian: I certainly think that the talent level is there in Zimbabwe. I can name numerous people during my time who could have easily taken it to the next level. It comes down to identification of talent, nurturing it correctly, positioning those kids with the right collegiate programmes in the US and also making sure that they have a solid education background. So certainly yes, I think it will be emulated. Let’s not forget people like Ken Harnden, my coach, was a finalist at the World Champs in the 400m hurdles in 1995, Lewis Banda narrowly missed the 2004 Olympic 400m finals by one or two spots and Ngoni Makusha was fourth-placed in the long jump in 2008. So the talent level is abundant in Zimbabwe, it just has to be nurtured correctly.