18 year-old Tebogo Letsile stuns athletics world
Although Botswana did not set any target on medals for the ongoing U20 World Athletics Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya, Team Manager, Mpho Bagwasi says they have always been confident about the performance of local athletes in the track field.
“Our athletes have been destined to succeed because they have been training on home soil and clocking some good times. Arriving at the competition two days prior to commencement also put us at an advantage of familiarising with the environment,” he explained.
Bagwasi commended Tebogo Letsile on his running time and doing exceptionally well in the competitions. The 100m gold medalist also scooped first position in the 200m heats on Friday. Bagwasi said they continue to have faith in the rest of the athletes in upcoming races, to also outdo themselves on the race track.
Team Manager -Botswana Tokyo 2020 Olympics National team, Raymond Phale, also applauded young athletes currently competing at the U20 World Championships. Following a record-breaking sprint by 18-year-old Letsile which won him a gold medal, Phale said Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) is aware of the vast young talent across the country that can be groomed and harnessed to continue the legacy of athletes like Nijel Amos, Amantle Montsho and Isaac Makwala. He,however, decried that such talent goes to waste because of acute shortage of resources which disadvantages them and denies them an opportunity to excel in athletics.
“Some of the best athletes who run good times are found in villages and even settlements and while we are affiliated with the Botswana National Sport Commision (BNSC) and Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC). There is only so much we can do with the funding and grants we receive,” he lamented.
Phale recognized Letsile as exceptional and believes there is need to set up a developmental programme specific to nurturing him and others like him from all walks of life. He added that they are appreciative of the resources given to them as an association but would also appeal to organizations to step in and support prospective talented young athletes. “We need to start at grassroot level and the good thing is support can come in different forms for; shoes, clothing. Accommodation and so on not just monetary value, “he added. He explained that the developmental programme will benefit the athletes and the nation in the long and potential sponsors can step in for a partnership with them as the BAA.
The athletics team is proud on their stellar performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; efforts which landed them a bronze medal thereby putting the nation on a pedestal. 28-year-old Zibani Ngozi ran the 4 by 400m men’s relay in the third lap and according to him it became apparent to them that they were really swimming with the big leagues when they arrived in Japan.
According to Ngozi the journey towards qualifying for the Olympics was not an easy one especially due to the restrictive measures that came as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Due to Covid 19 we had to be smart about our training and I for one sometimes crossed over to our neighboring country, South Africa to train and work on my fitness,” he narrated. He further explained that for the most of part, it was a smooth sail although security was very tight but in their best interest in accordance to relevant Covid-19 protocols in place. Ngozi went on to explain that they went through a series of Covid-19 tests with every stop which was tedious but a lot less uncomfortable because it was done by poking into the mouth only or a saliva test. “The tests were a lot but it is better than here where they still use the nose test which comes with a lot of discomfort,” he added.
Ngozi recalls seeing athletes from other countries and realizing that they need to improve on their muscle gain. “I used to think Leungo Scotch is something of a body builder but there are athletes walking around with some serious muscle in this world. I could say the same for our big brother Isaac Makwala, who I look up to and see as a beast on the track but the Olympics surprised me with the stature of athletes there, a lot was learnt,” he said. Moreover, as a collective they are at a loss for words of gratitude for the immense show of support and their belief in bringing a medal back home. “We used to receive messages and calls regularly with words of encouragement and reassurances; the nation was up at odd hours to watch us race and we do not take that for granted, “he commended.
25-year-old Scotch shared similar sentiments acknowledging that the experience was memorable and was especially elated to have made it to the prestigious competition with his mates whom he trained with regularly. Furthermore, as a collective, they were excited to be with Nijel Amos and Makwala as well as the coaches who were able to run them through their first-time experience in Japan. Makwala walked them through every little thing off the field as well as on the track field which was calming for the athletes. Baboloki Thebe (24) has past experience on international race tracks but was still ecstatic to be on the field in Tokyo, and the results yielded by combined efforts of hard work and dedication. The sprinter is scheduled to leave for Ivory Coast in Nov to train for the upcoming season and competitions ahead.
The youngest member of the team, Bayapo Ndori made headlines at just 22 when he graced the Olympics, an opportunity he believes helped him learn new skills that will need to be adopted for the future. He was however disappointed that a majority of them failed to qualify for the flats and others for the Olympics altogether, which he believes was as a result of the pandemic. “It was worse for me because I was in and out of quarantine a lot in the days leading up to the Olympics, “he highlighted with concern. However, Ndori has high hopes for the future, noting that to continue thriving as athletes and to keep the momentum they have to ensure they practice discipline on and off the field and excellent time management; confident that they can do better than they have now if they live by these principles. “I believe the only challenge with the Olympics was the time difference and we suffered headaches trying to adjust to the different time zone and a new sleeping schedule. Fortunately, we got the hang of things within the first week,” he explained.
Phale praised the Olympics team on a job well done. He said the ladies were ecstatic to be part of the Olympics but are reluctant to speak to the media and were not in the same residency with the male athletes at the time of this interview.