Sunday, July 3, 2022

Botswana’s 400 metres relay rises from the ashes

The year was 2003 and the venue for the All Africa games was Abuja, Nigeria.

The event was the 400 x 400 metres relay, which the hosts were expected to win. However, when the hour came, the games witnessed an unexpected upset.

A little known Botswana team, which comprised of, among others, California Molefhe, Johnson Kubisa, Kagiso Kilego and Oganeditse Moseki blaze through the tracks. They surprised many when they handily won the All Africa games gold medal, beating favourites Nigeria into second position.

The Botswana team then went on to qualify to represent the country at the Olympic Games where they made the country proud as they made it to the finals.

However, after most of the team’s members retired, some due to injuries, the country failed to fill the vacuum they left.

Fast forward to eight years later at the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique and another less known Botswana men’s 4 x 400 metre relay team, comprising of young athletes in the likes of Obakeng Ngwigwa, Pako Seribe, Fanuel Kenosi and Thapelo Ketlogetswe, ran themselves to third position and a silver medal, clocking an impressive 3:05.92.

While the team’s virtuoso performance, though not as golden as that of their predecessors, took many people by surprise and many others wondered whether the team could do as well or even perform better than the fabled 2003 team.

For the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA), the performance was nothing to be surprised at. Speaking in an interview with Standard Sport, BAA Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ipolokeng Ramatshaba, said the team’s good performance was, for them, expected.

The BAA PRO, who prior to the games had described the team as the possible surprise package of the games, says the team could have done even better.

“This is a fairly young team we have made and measured by the recent performance, we are positive that they can regain the glory back to the country should they mature and be together for a longer period,” Ramatshaba said in an interview. “This country has very strong athletes in short distance races and our performance here is not surprising. If you look closely, we still have a large number of young athletes who are very strong and it is just a matter of time before most of them come into prominence,” the BAA spokesperson added.

On whether the current team’s performance could eclipse that of the team that made history at the 2003 Abuja Games, Ramatshaba said with good training, everything is possible.

“What was done with that team (2003 team) was that they were taken into camp and had a lot of time to prepare together. If we can afford this team the same training and preparation or even better, I believe this team can do much better,” he said.

Another option, according to the BAA PRO, will be to put the athletes in high performance centres to help them get optimised training.

“Of the current 400 metres athletes, only two, Ngwigwa and Isaac Makwala, are getting training outside the country. Funds allowing, we wish to take more athletes, not just in the 400 metres event but also in other events to training outside the country,” he added.

Quizzed on what could have created a void after the retirement of the continent-conquering team of 2003, Ramatshaba said the problem was that the association never tried finding the team’s replacements earlier and when they started doing as such it was late and it also took time to find the right athletes.

“We have learnt during that time that we cannot rely on the same athletes for a long time. We now know that we have to keep looking for new talent while the current top athletes are still at their peak. That way, if they retire we can have their replacements and avoid having the same vacuum,” he added.

Ramatshaba says as such, the BAA will continue using every opportunity that comes, like the Botswana Games, to scout for new talent so as to avoid having to go through the same problem again.

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