Letsile Tebogo: From frustrated footballer to putting food on the table through athletics

Isaac Makwala, Nigel Amos, and Amantle Montsho. These are some of the leading track and field stars to hoist the flag of the landlocked South African country, Botswana in track and field over the last decade. Their light shone so much that it’s almost impossible not to see them in a major global event final over the 400m or 800m in that time frame.

Amos doing amazing stuff over the two-lap event as he ranks joint third over the distance in the men’s all-time list, while Makwala, although nearing the end of his career, has still got the legs for one or two major championships. Baboloki Thebe is still blazing the trail over the quarter-mile, as he was part of the 4x400m quartet that clinched Bronze for the country at the Tokyo Olympics.

Like the Kenyans who have produced the best of distance runners over the last half-century or the Jamaicans dominating the sprints, Botswana has churned out good quarter milers in the last decade. However, there seems to be a change in the tide of that norm as a certain Letsile Tebogo stormed to Gold over the 100m at the World Junior Championships in Kenya in 2021.

Tebogo was a class apart from the rest of the field as they clocked a new Personal Best of 10.11s in the semifinal while winning the final in 10.19. BY achieving that feat, he became the first Botswanan to win a medal of any color over the 100m at a global championship.

“I was really excited after achieving that feat. I have always drawn motivation from the older ones to set the pace for us, and it made me proud to do so. I really hope I can continue in the trajectory during my career”.

The 18-year-old lit up the front pages with his style of running that is easy on the eye and with a speed and style that seemed unorthodox, but very efficient. Tebogo seems to be ahead of his rivals, as his development in less than three years of running track has been mind-blowing.

“Firstly, I used to run past people as a kid, then I went to play football. It wasn’t a good period for me because I was always getting benched which made me frustrated. That prompted my decision to go back to athletics as I saw it made me able to put food on the table for my family”.

“For a while, I didn’t pay more attention to athletics until about 2018 when I realized I could go professional with it,” Tebogo said.

Tebogo went into the 200m as the No 1 candidate for the win, and after going through the rounds unscathed, he met a better match in the final in Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike, settling for Silver in 20.38.

“I was very disappointed about not winning Gold over the 200m, as it is my favorite event. I know if hadn’t gone through three rounds of 100m and two in the 200m, I would have beaten Udodi. That’s all in the past now because I plan on getting the title back”.

For the first time in history, World Athletics will be hosting back-to-back World Junior Championships and still eligible to compete, Tebogo has confirmed he has already booked his flight to Cali, Columbia, hosts of this year’s Championships as he hopes to defend his 100m crown.

Over the years African Sprinters have struggled to make a mark on the World Stage as there have been no medallist from the continent at a World Championships since it first took place in Helsinki in 1993. With the likes of Onwuzurike, Favour Ofili, Nse Uko Imaobong, and Anthony Pasela all claiming the 200m and 400m title in Nairobi, Tebogo thinks it’s time for Africa to take charge in the nearest future.

“I think it’s time for Africa to take over the sprints on the global stage. You look at top nations like Jamaica and realize they didn’t do so well at the World Juniors last year, and the retirement of Usain Bolt has seen a sharp decline in their sprinting.” Tebogo said.

Tebogo opened his season on January 30th over the 400m, a race he says he hasn’t run competitively before, and as expected he scorched to a 46.09s time to take the win. Although it’s not one he hopes to do much this season, it’s rather impressive to see how he can run that fast over the distance. Well, not so much, considering it’s in his “Botswanan genes”.

Over the course of the season, the sprinter hopes to achieve other landmarks, with qualifying for the World Championships in Oregon top of the bill for him while he also hopes to represent his country at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The hard work starts now as there is already a feeling that Tebogo’s breakout year has brought renewed optimism about the limitless potentials of African Sprinting as he could potentially challenge the established order in the future.

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