THE UNTOLD STORY OF OLYMPIAN, BEATRICE LUNGU
It is 1972, everyone is getting into their element as Athletes from all over the world converged in one space, united by one common cause - Sport. Over 7,000 athletes had come to face-off in the biggest and one of the most decorated sporting spectacle, the Olympic Games, this time to be held in Munich, Germany. That year Beatrice Lungu was to make her debut at the games as part of the Zambian team that represented the country in the 100 meters race at the international multi-sport event. But one is only left to wonder at how a young Zambian lady in her prime got herself to the Olympic Games to bag a 12.42 seconds record at a time when tradition was so loud on the spaces women and girls had to occupy. The story was different for Beatrice Lungu. Born November 23rd, 1956 in the Central Part of Zambia in a small town which was later going to be called Kabwe and the first of 12 children.
While she was still trying to make childhood friends in Kabwe, her father landed a job in the mines, and this led to her family moving to the Copperbelt Province where they settled in the Town of Kitwe first in Chamboli, Miseshi then Nkana West. She attended Chamboli and later Miseshi Primary Schools. After passing her Grade 7 exams Beatrice was accepted at Kitwe Girls Secondary School where she participated full time in sports. When Beatrice first got on the track field, she instantly knew that it would be her second home, a place of solace and self-discovery.
But this meant that they would be lots of sacrifices and decisions to be made. With support from both her parents and siblings young Beatrice was able to make it to practice and hone her craft.
The saying, "it takes a whole village to raise a child" speaks directly to the kind of upbringing that Beatrice had. Through her disciplined conduct and exemplary talent, she attracted attention from all corners including her father's employers (Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines formerly Rokana Division) who aided her with supplies to help prepare the budding athlete. Her first sponsorship came in form of training kits through her church in Riverside, Kitwe. This motivated Beatrice to train even harder and subsequently led her to participate at interschool, provincial and national competitions.
When news first broke that Beatrice Lungu was among the 11 athletes selected to represent the country at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games in Germany, her family, church and school went into overdrive with jubilation, it’s that feeling that one gets when a baby is born.
Beatrice recalls how overwhelmed she was, not only by the news of her dreams coming true but also by the love and support that she received.
She shares that her entire Olympic outfit was sponsored by two Scandinavian teachers who were at the time working in Zambia. But that was not all. To cement their confidence in the talented young sprinter, the mines flew Beatrice from Kitwe to Lusaka for camp as she began to prepare for Munich. "I cannot thank the mines enough for the kind of support they gave me. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do certain things and travel." While her parents could not at the time provide for all her sporting needs Beatrice surely walked in favour and basked in the benevolence of those that believed in her potential.
Through various people and networks, she was able to progress and train with ease. And attributes her success to her supportive parents.
Beatrice recalls the many times her siblings would perform house chores on her behalf just so she would train. Perhaps they too carried her dream like their own. Looking back, Beatrice describes her journey as one of perseverance, prayer, and consistence. Although it may appear that everyone was happy for her, they were times when Beatrice was a victim of cultural stigmatization. Luckily, her self believe and dreams did not destruct her from all the negative reinforcements and cultural myths created by those intimidated by her ambitions Despite her humble upbringing Beatrice had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and status- thanks to her deferential and bubbly personality.
Through my involvement in sport, I met people who were not in the same economic and social brackets as me but sport was our common denominator."
Prior to her Olympic debut , Beatrice Lungu represented the country in the 1971 East and Central African Championships held at Independence stadium in Lusaka and later at the All-African Games in Nigeria.
In 1974 Beatrice was the only female Zambian athlete to have qualified to the Christchurch 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. That year she was to join the likes of Charles Lupiya (her training partner in Kitwe), Julius Luipa, Newton Chisanga and Lottie Mwale in representing the country at the games. However, despite her qualification Beatrice was denied the opportunity to compete at the multi-sport event on account that it was costly to send one female athlete to the games. This was devastating news for Beatrice who describes the moment as " extremely painful."
I had sacrificed a lot in the years and to be denied an opportunity to realize my dream because of gender was very unfair and painful, she laments.
And so, at the age of 19 when she was just about to get started, Beatrice Lungu packed her shoes and put down her tools, retiring from a promising career in sports.
She focused her attention to build a career outside sports and worked with government in personnel division as well as the Management Services Board. In 1985 she moved to England and began working for the Shropshire County Council and then later Telford Borough Council.
Today we choose to celebrate and recognize this unsung hero who braved the odds the best she knew and lifted the Zambian flag with honor.