Olympian George Mosweu remembers Botswana’s journey
Confident that Botswana will win some medals
Athletics carry medal hopes: Amos, Makwala in top form
Coach Dipeba confident of his charges
Forty one years since the maiden appearance at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where the team returned home empty handed, Botswana’s fortunes have not changed much as shown by the dismal performance at the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Games where most local athletes failed to go beyond preliminary stages. STAFF WRITER BAKANG TIRO tracked down a member of the seven man 1980 Olympics squad, George Golekanye Mosweu alias Mix to his hometown in Lobatse, where he has retired.
His memory still sharp as razor, Mosweu remembers his teammates as if the Moscow sojourn happened only yesterday. The team comprised of seven athletes including Louis Josiah, Wilfred Kareng, Langa Mudongo, Joseph Ramotshabi, Ishmael Mhaladi, Robert Chideka and Mosweu. Mix, who maintains an athlete’s lifestyle although he is retired, was a 10 000 metres long distance runner.
In an exclusive interview, Mosweu told Patriot Sport that the team did not perform well at the Moscow, Russia Olympics as only one athlete, Langa Mudongo made it to the quarterfinals. “Joseph Ramotshabi competed in the 400 metres, while Ishmael Mhaladi 1,500 metres, Robert Chideka contested in the 5,000m and 10,000 metres races while Molepolole based Wilfred Kareng competed in the 400 metres hurdles. This was a team made of hard working and disciplined athletes as we were trained by experienced Russian coaches at the time,” said Mosweu, as memories came flooding back.
Although they could not win any medal, succumbing to superior opponents from Europe, USA and the UK in the heats, Mosweu holds fond memories about the historical moment when Botswana managed to break into the Olympics with their maiden appearance.
Mosweu also revealed that he was heavily involved in athletics in neighbouring South Africa where he worked in the mines. The outspoken Lobatse born athlete said he spent the better part of his life in athletics. In fact, when he represetedn Botswana at the 1980 Olympics it was not for the first time that he participated at international level.
“I was not exposed to international athletics competition at the Olympics. In 1974 I participated at the Commonwealth games held in New Zealand. I remember well that the same kit that the athletes used was worn by the team that represented the country at 1973 All Africa Games in Nigeria. That is how challenging it was for the athletes at the time. At least athletes of today are well resourced,” he remembers, vividly.
A year before the 1980 Olympics, Mosweu said he participated in a professional competition on the 31st December 1979 in Luanda, Angola where he won himself a medal by finishing in position four (4). The victory in Luanda, he said, motivated him to take athletics serious, which resulted in him forming part of the 1980 Olympics team.
According to Mosweu, South Africa was far better as compared to Botswana in terms of investing on sport. “In South Africa, companies have been sponsoring athletics competitions from time immemorial, even today that is still the case. Mining companies, when I was an athlete in South Africa will convene competitions that helped to identify athletes to feed the national teams. Even today there are big athletics competitions such as The Comrade’s Marathon held in Cape Town, which is sponsored by big companies. It is very crucial for companies in Botswana to invest more in sport. For us to be competitive as a country we need to invest more on sport whether it is athletics, football or any other code. We can, as a country, learn one or two things from our neighbors in South Africa. I enjoyed my time in athletics in South Africa more than here at home,” said Mosweu, disappointment written all over his face.
Mosweu said he is still keeping some of the medals he won in different competitions where he enjoyed a lot of glory. Having coached children from primary schools in and around Lobatse in athletics, imparting skills and sharing his experiences, Mosweu declared that he remains eager to train and mentor young athletes to be successful.
Despite heroics of representing Botswana as the first team at the Olympics, Mosweu decries that they have been forgotten by government, except for a rare mention in newspaper articles. According to Mosweu, one of the trophies he won while representing the country was taken away from him and kept at the former Botswana National Sport Council, now renamed Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) for archives. Notwithstanding the symbolism of such a feat, the authorities told Mosweu that since he was a national hero the trophy was a national asset, not for personal benefit.
“Some men who I served this country with pride as sport icons are no longer in life and they were not even honored in a way that they deserved to by their own country. We are completely forgotten although our names exist in history books putting Botswana in global map. I don’t know whether it’s because during our time there was no specific ministry of sport and we relied on ministry of labour and home affairs. Even as our athletes at a time we relied on our pockets to fund our trainings and buy the athletics equipment. I am also very thankful to some of my coaches from Russia who turned us into the professional athletes we were. The Russians value sport and they took good care of us,” said Mosweu.
Brushing non-recognition aside, Mix is happy that government and the business community have joined forces and today are taking care of athletes as they are paid some allowances and medal prizes. This, he said, should not be the case only when athletes are competing in top competitions. He emphasised that consistency is key in taking care of athletes because a happy athlete is always prepared physically and psychologically for tournaments at all times.
The 1980 Olympics team heroics has not gone unnoticed. Raj Rathedi -Director of Sport at the University of Botswana, himself a decorated long distance marathoner for many years has followed local athletics all his life. He is well acquainted with athletes like Mosweu, and their escapades in that near-impossible assignment back in 1980. But it was worth the effort, Rathedi is adamant. In any case team Blue, Black and White was never expected to bring medals. That they were punching above their weight is without doubt.
In an interview Rathedi said he no longer wants to comment on the national sport issues of Botswana at the moment, noting that he has been receiving backlash with some people not happy with his commentary but said he knows Mosweu very well as one of the national sport heroes. “I first went to the Olympics as a coach during my time. Mosweu was my mentor in sport and I first met him in 1974. I am very happy that you managed to speak to him. He shaped my career as a sportsman. My family has encouraged me to write a book about my sport journey. I will make lot of comments about some of the burning issues in our sport,” said Rathedi in a parting shot late Friday.
Then and now
Unlike back in 1980, each of the 14 athletes today representing Botswana at the Japan Olympics had an opportunity to become an instant millionaire after Choppies Enterprises Limited Botswana set a gold medal prize reward at P1 million.
Mosweu observed that sport has grown and today it is taken professionally, therefore athletes must be financially supported as government is taking sport serious compared to their times. He said the Olympics teams of today are at an advantage as they have access to resources such as training grounds, noting that in 1980 Botswana had no track and field facilities and only enjoyed them in Europe.
In addition, Mosweu said he is adamant that Botswana will win a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games despite some athletes having failed to qualify for the next round. Batswana have been pinning hopes on the likes of Isaac Makwala, Amantle Montsho, Nigel Amos and the relay teams to bring back home at least three medals. “We have not done well at the start but I am hoping that we will get the medals. It is not all lost. The psychology of our athletes who are yet to compete in their events must be at its best for us to get medals,” said Mosweu.
Do or Die
National team coach, Justice Dipeba has remained confident that as the Tokyo Olympics draw to a close Botswana will salvage something to make up for the humiliation after other members of the entourage were eliminated in preliminary stages of the tournament.
He dismissed speculation that he may be coming under pressure to deliver the two medal target, saying as a coach he has become accustomed to immense pressure on the big stage. For him, it was comforting that all the athletes in camp were in good shape. He said the most important thing was for them to focus on finishing the heats in qualifying spot for the next round of the competition until eventually reaching the finals.
Promising to deliver on the promise through athletics, Dipeba said all the athletes were equally charged up and raring to go. “We have been there before. If you go back to all the competitions, you will remember that athletics is always the last one to compete and pressure is always on our athletes if other codes do not perform well,” said Dipeba. “But we are trying to manage the young ones. You know with social media nowadays, they can see what people are expecting from them, it piles a lot of pressure. All in all I think we are doing well in terms of containing them,” he said.
By the end of the week all eyes were on local athletes, of whom Dipeba waxes lyrical especially the potential to beat the best and win an Olympics medal, as displayed in recent international championships.
The Saturday and Sunday athletics events were earmarked as the days in which Botswana’s most celebrated athletes would grab the spotlight to parade the stuff they are made of. It was a matter of go big or go home!
On form 800m star, Nijel Amos was scheduled to take to the track in the wee hours of Saturday morning, starting at 0250hrs.
Bouyed by the world leading time of 1:42.91, which he recently recorded at the Monaco Diamond League, Makwala will take to the track to compete in the 400 metres at 0345hrs on Sunday. The world record of 1:40.91 is currently held by Kenyan athlete, David Rudisha.
Makwala’s team mate, Leungo Scotch will represent Botswana in the ladies 400m race around the same time. Amantle Montsho will later compete in the Women’s 800metres