Thursday, June 13, 2024

Female athletes should draw inspiration from Amantle Montsho

At the peak of her career, Amantle Montsho was the single epitome of female and general sports excellence in Botswana.

Prior to her, no female athlete from Botswana had scaled the heights of sports professionalism. Also, no athlete, both male and female, had achieved a world star status.

She is not Botswana’s first World Champion, No! That honour belongs to a certain Shihan Mpho Bakwadi. But she is the country’s first world recognised star.

As an athlete, Montsho epitomised what a girl child could achieve if given enough support. After showing potential as a young athlete, she was shipped out to train at the high-performance centre in Senegal. And as they say, the rest is history!

She went on to win almost all accolades in track athletics, bar the Olympic medal. She is now Botswana’s first athletics world champion and the first commonwealth gold medallist. She has won countless medals in the continent.

Her conquests as an athlete became an inspiration to female athletes in Botswana. This became even so more evident when, after announcing her retirement, she was cajoled to make a come back to the track. The plan was for her to lead the country’s then promising women’s 4X400m relay to qualifications for major games.

True to form, she did as was expected. She led the team to a podium finish at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, winning bronze. A year later, she also led it to a silver medal the African Games in Rabat, Morocco.

Since retirement however, no athlete has taken the mettle from her. The once promising female athletes who seemed destined to take the button from her are fading or have just faded.

When Botswana appears at these year’s World Athletics Championships in Budapest, there is a likelihood there will be no female representation. None of the country’s female athletes has had a direct qualification to the event. Even the once promising women’s 4X400m relay team has not made the cut. None of the athletes seems to possess the drive and the longevity which Montsho has displayed over her illustrious career. Was she Botswana’s once in a lifetime female athlete phenomenon?

“We may not have the largest pool to select from due to our population, but we definitely have very talented female athletes. If you take Galefhele Moroko, as an example, she had everything to reach Montsho’s level and may even surpass her,” coach Chilume ‘Chippa’ Ntshwarang says.

Ntshwarang is one of the few athletics coaches who have unearthed girl athletes. Some of the athletes who have come through his hands include Leungo Matlhaku, Tsaone Sebele, Joy Mphato and Gosego Mpeo. The quartet formed one of the most exciting youthful 4X100m relays in the country when they appeared in the scene as juniors.

In his analysis, Moroko and Christine Botlogetswe should by now be at their peak. They should have taken the baton from Montsho. However, due to a lack of intentional program to help them, more especially to recover from injuries, they have not hit the heights they seemed destined to reach.

Ntshwarang says unlike the men athletes, the girl child needs even more intentional programmes to reach her potential. Montsho had such, and this pushed her to reach her potential.

“We need to have a high-performance structure where our athletes, more especially the girl child can be sent to for them to train at. This structure will afford them to train like professional athletes and give them the necessary medical and psychological support to blossom,” says Ntshwarang.

For him, there is no reason why we cannot have a female equivalent for every male star athlete the country produces. For every Bayapo Ndori, Letsile Tebogo, Collen Gabanatshipi, he says there should be the same number of females. And this he says is possible if we become intentional in how we do things.

Countries like Jamaica and USA are showing the way. For every quality male sprinter they have, the also have the same in their ladies’ teams. Kenya also has the same in long distance races.

“We should also look at countries like Poland who have intentional plans for the development of their female athletes. They are trying to get the same number of female athletes as with the men,” Ntshwarang says.

Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) vice president technical Oabona Theetso says the issue of female athletes needs to be looked closely into. He believes the country needs to make research into why female athletes are not reaching the same heights as their male counterparts.

“From a layman’s point of view however, I believe that first and foremost, we need to work together as stakeholders to help the girl child reach the same heights as Montsho,” he says.

“The second thing we need to look into is how we manage injuries of our female athletes. Remember that when Botlogetswe and Moroko competed at the Tokyo Olympics, they were returning from injuries. These were the same injuries they had sustained a year prior in 2019.” He however points out that only proper research into the matter can pinpoint if something is not being done right. “We should not use our emotions but should rather wait for a scientific research,” he says.

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