The year 2011 was unarguably the best sporting year for Botswana and the sports landscape in the country will never be the same.
Although other sports codes tried their best internationally, it was athletics and football that got all the accolades and made Botswana proud.
The spirited run by Amantle Montsho on August 29th at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and Jerome Ramatlhakwane’s 50 minute goal in Ndjamena against Chad put Botswana on the World Map and left everybody talking about the country.
Montsho won Botswana’s first ever medal, beating renowned world champions. Her arch rival, American Alyson Felix, who obtained position two, conceded after the race that she did all she could before and during the race but Montsho was too strong for her.
Upon her arrival in Botswana, Montsho was given a deserved hero’s welcome by none other than state President Ian Khama at the airport. Despite arriving late, Khama did what has never been done before by his predecessors because they never had anyone to welcome after conquering the world of sports.
Ramatlhakwane’s goal, on the other hand, meant that Botswana qualified for its first ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) appearance.
Sweetly enough, Botswana did it by beating former world finalists and top rated African teams, Tunisia and Togo.
At the beginning of the tournament, many Batswana did not have faith in the team because they believed they needed a foreign coach rather than a local one.
The Botswana Football Association stood its ground and hired Stanley Tshosane, who did not disappoint and who has since raised his profile significantly.
What still shocks the world to date is the fact that Botswana does not have a single player in Europe but uses only a few plying their trade in neighbouring South Africa. Most play locally.
Botswana’s players then in South Africa were Ramatlhakwane, Phenyo Mongala, Boitumelo Mafoko, Modiri Marumo, Mogogi Gabonamong and Diphetogo Selolwane.
Other countries already had established stars in major European leagues. It was, however, not an easy road for the Zebras as they had to endure a long period of disappointing results. At one stage, the country was even nicknamed the ‘Whipping Boys of Africa’ because countries that played Botswana were always guaranteed victories against Botswana.
In this forthcoming tournament, Botswana has been put in a group of death alongside favourites Ghana, Mali and Guinea.
Despite many sports gurus ruling them out, coach Tshosane has reiterated that anything is possible if there are ample preparations.
Just like the Zebras, Montsho’s rise to stardom was not easy as she had to endure a lot of disappointing results.
Were she any other less determined athlete, Montsho would have long pulled out but she soldiered on until she got it right. Many people started taking note of her in 2004 when took part in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. She did not qualify for the tournament but Botswana Athletics Association used a wild card criterion to take her there. That somehow paid off as she was exposed to bigger events.
About three years ago, she was taken to Senegal’s high performance centre where she appears to have learned a lot. Some people slammed the move, saying she should instead go to Europe and train along-side established athletes.
Senegal proved fruitful for Montsho as she managed to beat those athletes from highly rated performance centers. All Batswana’s hopes are now on Montsho to once again do Botswana proud next year at the London Olympics.
Botswana has never won a single medal at the competitions and hopefully Montsho will break that jinx.
If Montsho keeps her consistency, she will be the second all time middle distance runner to come from Southern Africa. The other undisputed middle distance queen, who has since retired, is Mozambican, Maria Mutola, nicknamed Maputo Express.
Some local athletes are already in line to join Montsho at the Senegalese high performance centre and that could raise Botswana flag even higher.