Updated 30 July 2008
Racheal NACHULA, Zambia (400m)
Born 14 January 1990 in Lusaka
Coach: Steve Rautenbach / Club : Tuks
Twin sister Rebecca also a good athlete (53.74/2:06.28)
As a child, Racheal Nachula did not imagine that she would become an athlete one day. Her parents were not fond of sports and her mother, left alone to raise five children (a sixth had died) after her father passed away in 1999 – would not let her get involved in a sporting activity.
Racheal, however, followed a friend in the national football team to the playing ground in November 2003. When her mother also died prematurely, in December 2003, in a state of shock, Racheal could not continue. Several months elapsed before the 14-year-old, who dropped school in the 8th grade as she was unable to pay the fees, was to be seen playing football again.
But, soon after restarting, the winger was spotted by coach Hanson Mushili, who advised her to try her luck on the track. She joined his Outreach Community Club, in Lusaka, with her twin sister Rebecca, but was not committed at first. “Sometimes, I would go to training, sometimes I wouldn’t,” she recalled.
Yet, from her very first competitions in 2004, Nachula distinguished herself, defeating the best local athletes so that her international debut followed quickly.
In May 2005, she claimed victory at the Southern Africa School Championships (COSSASSA), clocking 54.56 in the 400m. One month later she won the 200m (24.49) at the Southern Africa Youth Championships in Pretoria. She went on to be the biggest revelation of the Southern Africa Regional Championships, in July in Harare, where the barefoot 15-year-old runner achieved a 200m (24.0)/400m (53.8) double before anchoring the Zambian team 4x400m to gold.
Observers were struck by her physical resemblance to Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, a former Olympic and multi World champion, who also started her career as a football player.
This feat earned Nachula a selection for the World Youth Championships, in Marrakech, where she reached the semi-finals (24.59 heat, 24.79 semi), which reinforced her decision to give up football in 2006. “In football, I was running too much and selection is subjective, while in athletics if you perform, you are in the team,” she explained. At the end of the year, she also switched clubs and moved to the Lusaka Green Buffaloes to be trained by M. Hatuleke.
In the spring of 2006, at the age of 16, Nachula had her first taste of international competition in the senior ranks, at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She did not advance from the heats but managed to get close to her 200m best (24.38) after an under par 400m (57.18).
In July, back into her age ranks, she dipped under 24sec for the first time on her way to a 200m/400m (23.89/53.96) double at the Southern Africa Youth Games, in Namibia, and was selected for the World Junior Championships, in Beijing, despite being still a youth. There she reached the semi-finals in both events and missed out on a place in the 400m final by less than a tenth of a second after improving to 53.40 in the heats and 53.05 in the semi, breaking the Zambian record.
Following her promising performances, Nachula was awarded an IOC scholarship to train with Steve Rautenbach at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria and moved to South Africa in January 2007. On 5 May, she improved two national records during the Gaborone AAC meet in Botswana at an altitude of around 1000m, with a victory in the 200m (23.42) and second place behind South Africa’s Estie Wittstock in the 400m (52.99).
Three weeks later she claimed two silver medals at the Southern African Championships in Windhoek, Namibia (23.45 and 53.46) but pulled her hamstring while trying to close the gap as an anchor in the 4x100m. Her preparation for July’s All Africa Games, in Algiers, was affected, and there she failed to advance from the 400m heats (54.40) and later pulled out of the 200m.
After taking time to recover, Nachula returned to the track during the South African season, before having her first taste of indoor competition at the 2008 World Championships, in March in Valencia, where she reached the semi-finals (53.30). Just one week later, she dipped below 53.00 for the first time, clocking 52.97 to take second place at the South African Championships in Stellenbosch. Since then she has enjoyed spectacular progression, slashing another second and a half off her PB in less than two months.
She clocked 52.28, an Olympic B-standard, at the Frankie Fredericks meeting, in Windhoek on 11 April, before lowering her marks to 51.99 and 51.39 in the semi-final and final of the African Championships, in Addis Ababa early May, where she finished third, becoming the first Zambian woman to medal at the continental event.
Despite the fact that her best marks have mostly been set at altitude, Nachula appeared in position to become the first Zambian to win a medal at the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. But she missed out, trying to keep up with Nigeria’s Folashade Abugan rather than settling for a place on the podium, eventually fading to fourth. In retrospect, it may remain as a good learning experience, as the Olympics are likely to be too.
100m: 11.71A (2008)
200m: 23.42 (2007); 23.0 hand timed (2008)
400m: 51.39A (2008)
800m: 2:11.2 (2005)
2005: 23.8/53.8 2006: 23.89/53.05; 2007: 23.42/52.99; 2008: 23.0A (hand timed)/51.39A
2005 1st Southern Africa Youth Championships, Pretoria (200m)
2005 1st Southern Africa Regional Championships, Harare (200m)
2005 1st Southern Africa Regional Championships, Harare (400m)
2005 1st Southern Africa Regional Championships, Harare (4x400m)
2006 1st Southern Africa Youth Games, Namibia (200m)
2006 1st Southern Africa Youth Games, Namibia (400m)
2007 2nd Southern African Championships, Windhoek (200m)
2007 2nd Southern African Championships, Windhoek (400m)
2008 4th World Junior Championships (400m- 52.44)
2008 3rd African Championships, Addis Ababa (400m - 51.39A)
Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2008.