Meet Karabo Sibanda, Botswana’s 400m gold medallist

01 Jun 2014

Karabo Sibanda landed into athletics by accident. Almost two years ago, the Goodhope Senior Secondary School student was an ardent chess player and he had no ambitions to become an athlete.

That was until he watched Olympic gold medallist and world champion Usain Bolt. Karabo said he was immediately hooked on athletics after watching the Jamaican superstar breaking the 100m record at the 2012 London Olympics. Last year, while he was studying at Tsodilo Secondary School, Karabo threw away the chess board and put on his running spikes. The rest is history. It took the 16 year old Shashe Mooke born lad less than a year to become a superstar, winning gold at the 2nd African Youth Games.

“I was enthralled and captivated after watching Usain Bolt at the London Olympics. I was with my mother and everything changed from then. I immediately decided that chess was not for me. I wanted to run,” he said.

During the Olympic finals, Karabo’s mother supported American Justin Gaitlin while he was rooting for Bolt. In the end, Bolt impressed and won gold. Karabo was enthralled and decided to try his luck at athletics. What started as a casual chat with his mother while watching the Olympics developed into a gold medal winning exploit. He was later discovered by his current technical coach, Mogomotsi Otsetswe, who signed him up to participate in the BISA games in February this year.

“I was not the best at junior school though; there was someone who was better than me. But the quality of training and coaching that I got helped me to become the best,” he said.

His mother, 39 year old Masego Sibanda, said she was also surprised by her son’s exploits at the AYG as she knew him as a good chess player and not an athlete. She added that he once tried his luck in athletics and lost bitterly. Angry at losing, Karabo swore that he will never get back on track again.

“He was just eleven years old then, doing standard 7. I watched him crying after he got position four. He was very angry because he hates losing. He then vowed that he will never run again,” she said.

Not even his mother’s cajoling could convince him to get back on the racing track. It took Usain Bolt’s record breaking performance at the London 2012 Olympics to make Karabo reconsider. But his mother was not convinced. Even though young Karabo was dead serious when he told his mother that he had decided to join athletics, she never took him seriously because she was not convinced that he has what it takes to win.

“I did not take him seriously that night when he said he wants to join athletics. But after that I heard some people telling me that my son was a good athlete,” said Ms Sibanda.

While she is happy that her son has a bright future in athletics, she is worried that sports may over shadow his academic studies. She expressed her wish that Karabo could balance athletics with academics and remains adamant that education should come first. Karabo’s coach, Mogomotsi Otsetswe, said he has only been mentoring the boy for a few months. However, he revealed that he has seen a massive change in Karabo in the few months that he has been coaching him. When he first met him, Karabo was competing in the 100 and 200 meters. But his coach made him change to longer distances.

‘‘If you look at his muscle fibre and physique, Karabo has a slow twitch which makes him a more relaxed long distance runner. Naturally, he is not a sprinter,” he said.

And he was right. It took Karabo one race to realise that indeed he was a long distance runner. He adapted easily and started beating his competitors. At the recent BISA games, Karabo was competing in the 4 by 400 meters relay and he did very well. Only a few months ago, he was also competing in the 400 meters race at the Senn Foods National Athletics Championships qualifications.

“I told him to concentrate on the 400meters and he has never looked back. Even if he won the short sprint races he would not be as successful in his career as in the long races. This boy was meant for long races,’’ said Otsetswe.

Otsetswe’s word came to pass. On Thursday, during the finals of the AYG, Sibanda clinched gold easily in the 400meters. Running in lane eight, the young athlete grabbed the lead from the start and maintained his pace and position until the finish line. This was unexpected from the boy who, just a day before on Wednesday, has got a disappointing position three, clocking 47.75 seconds in the heats. But his experienced coach was not perturbed. He sat the boy down and told him not to concentrate on the crowd. He told him that he didn’t deserve to get position three and motivated him to do better next time.

“And the boy was motivated. The next day he won gold,” said Otsetswe. Sibanda was followed by Kenyan Ian Mutuka who got a silver medal with a timing of 47.20 and 7 points. The bronze medal went to the Ethiopian who was on lane 4, Alemu Gemechu Lama.