Loneliness of Namibian Olympic hopeful Merlin Diamond

By Razia IqbalBBC News, Mauritius

Merlin Diamond is Namibia's fastest female sprinter. At 19, she has left her friends and family behind to attend a special training centre thousands of miles from home.

The paradise island of Mauritius, off the south-east coast of Africa, is not the first place that springs to mind when you think about training for the London 2012 Olympics. But it is where Merlin Diamond has been sent, for that very purpose.

The Namibian teenager has been sponsored by the International Olympic Council's development fund, Olympic Solidarity, to get ready for London.

Merlin's dream is not only to qualify for 2012 but: "To be the first Namibian to bring a gold medal home."

When we meet her at our hotel on the day we arrive, we are disappointed to learn that two days earlier, an old hamstring injury had returned.

As a result, she has not been running, only training gently and working on her recovery.

We really want to see her sprint, but can see that her disappointment is greater than ours.

Apart from her wide smile and her easy and engaging manner, what is striking about Merlin Diamond is her remarkable back-story.

For the last 20 years, Merlin's mother has worked for Jeanne and Herman Davin in the Namibian capital, Windhoek. She now runs their guesthouse. Merlin grew up with Jeanne and Herman's two daughters, Suzelle and Janine - both passionate about athletes.

In 2006, both girls died in a car crash. Out of the tragedy though, the Davins set up the Janine and Suzelle Davin Sports Trustexternal-link, which helps Namibian sportsmen and women make the step up from the national to the international stage. And now, Merlin is a beneficiary of that trust.

The Davins are a source of huge support for Merlin, who acknowledges that she is lonely so far away from home. She says that the last three months in Mauritius have been tough without her family and friends around her.

"I'm still young. You need people around you to advise you and sometimes I cry just to get some relief from being here alone," Merlin says.

She mentions that of all the people she regards as role models, no one stands out more than Frankie Fredericks, the only Namibian who has won an Olympic medal - a silver in the 200 metres in Atlanta.

Beyond Merlin's injury, the reality of training for the Olympics comes as a bit of a shock. Mauritius is listed as a centre of excellence by the International Association of Athletics Federation.

But the training facilities we find are rudimentary. When we ask about facilities to help injured athletes recover, it becomes clear not much thought is given to this.

For Merlin, being on the Indian Ocean island is tough. The worst thing for an athlete is not to be able to perform, and as we filmed athletes taking part in a competition, Merlin could only look on and watch, forlornly.

But, as she admits: "As soon as I am back on track I will be able to see my goal."

There is no doubt that Merlin Diamond is determined to get over this minor blip in her training programme, although she says she feels under pressure. She feels: "2012 is not next year, it is just around the corner".

She is a young woman who is growing up fast and learning all the time. And between now and then, she may also be learning a new skill. When we were filming with her on the beach, she confessed that she could not swim and had never been in the sea.

One afternoon, we put that right, as Merlin and I walked into the sea together. She was nervous, so we held hands, and she was startled to taste the salt water.

Nevertheless, she also agreed that learning how to swim could be an important experience - an example of the determination she will need, in the face of current obstacles, to change Namibian athletics history.

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