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Steve Kelley: At the Olympics

Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.

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August 20, 2008 8:08 PM

A chance Malawi meeting

Posted by Steve Kelley

The East African country of Malawi is one of my favorite places on the planet. It's home to one of my good friends, Lester Namathaka, one of the country's educational pioneers. I'm hoping to visit there again later this year.

The Malawians I've met are hungry for learning. They are voracious readers. When we visited villages there, my friends and I were greeted like royalty, because the Malawians knew that we shared their interest in education. Their appreciation of our help with the education system was heartfelt.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the poorest continent, but the people I met (and I met many) have this indomitable spirit that gives me hope that conditions will improve. At the heart of that improvement will be books and education, which will lead to better opportunities and greater hope.

It was my great good fortune this week to see a woman in the cafeteria at the Main Press Center wearing a Malawi T-shirt. Turns out Lucy Kadzongwe is a sportswriter for The Guardian, a paper in the capital city of Lilongwe. The paper is onwed by Duwa Mutharika, the daughter of the State president.

Lucy is here as part of the International Olympic Committee's Media Outreach Program, which helps journalists in smaller, poorer countries become part of the Olympic experience. This is her first Olympics and she said she is hoping to return to London in 2012. I told her she should come to Vancouver in two years and see a place much different, but equally as beautiful as her part of the world.

She has been covering her four Malawian athletes, none of whom made it past qualifying. Two were swimmers -- Charlton Nyirenda and Zahra Pinto. And two were runners. Chancy Master finished 10th of 12 in his qualifying race in the 1,500 meters. And Lucia Chandamale finished 15th in qualifying for the 5,000 meters.

Other than her country men and women, Lucy said Malawians are especially interested in coverage of volleyball and table tennis.

One of the joys of covering the Olympics is the opportunity for new friendships. I told Lucy that when we returned to Malawi, I would introduce her to Lester and we could travel around and see the advances the country has made in its education. I'm hoping she'll take me to a soccer match.

The circle widens.

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