Monday, May 16, 2022

G-r-r-r-eat

Some things are better left unscripted and athletics, and short sprints in particular, are among those, more especially if you have a prodigious 18-year-old talented Letsile Tebogo in the line-up.

This past weekend, Tebogo figuratively tossed his and his coach’s carefully written Gaborone International Meet (GIM) 100m script off the window and rewrote it his way to enter the annals of men’s world junior history as well as that of Botswana.

And what a beautiful script it was! Placed in 5th position on the starting blocks and sandwiched between the 100m sub-10 running duo of South African sprinters Henrico Bruintjies and Gift Leotlela on the starting line, a seemingly unfazed Tebogo had his own ideas.

As Leotlela slipped at the blocks, the youngster made it count and in a Boltésque manner, showed his competitors a pair of clean heels. One quick glance at the electronic timer as he hurtled towards the finish line however told him he had gone off the script. He was about to do a sub-10 run, something his coach did not want him to do, at least not now.

Realizing this, Tebogo tried a rather unusual trick to halt his momentum. With more than 10 meters to the finish line, he raised his hands up in the air. Too little too late, race over and won! The stadium raptured into an applause.

In just 9.96seconds, an eight-year-old men’s world junior 100m record once held by America’s Trayvon Bromell and set in 2014 was gone, even if it was by a mere 0.01 seconds. At the other end, Botswana had just had its first ever sub-10 runner, a teenager for that matter. 

Sitting for his post-race interview, the 18-year-old seemed oblivious of the euphoria from all those around him, the media, supporters and fellow competitors alike. It was as if he had a liquid helium flowing through his veins, a character he seemingly also portrayed whilst waiting for the race.

“When we sat in the call-room prior to the race, everyone was excited and chatted. I just sat there and never spoke a word,” the unassuming track starlet intimated.

While his latest feat would have fazed a lot of us mere mortals, Tebogo on the other hand seems not fazed, not at all. He said despite his latest sub-10 run and the buzz around it, he will be under no pressure to repeat or even surpass it.

“It does not bother me,” he said dismissively when asked whether he will be under any pressure. “My coach has long advised me to ignore all the buzz from everyone including the media. He even advised that, if possible, I should avoid reading anything from the media,” he added.

Even though Tebogo is seemingly a well-grounded, down-to-earth little bloke, there is now a growing call for him to be safely guarded. Given the nature of the country’s track talent to go off the tracks, many are worried he may follow suite.

“It is important that he is protected,” Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) vice president Oabona Theetso said in an interview. “Not only him, but also all our other athletes,” he added.

In a country where many talented athletes easily get derailed, the BAA vice president said the association alone cannot accomplish much. He said a holistic approach is needed to protect Tebogo and all other athletes.

“We need all stakeholders hands on deck. Protection starts from home, then to the club and the BAA. But we also need everyone, the media, members of the BAA family and the general public to play a part,” Theetso said.

While the BAA vice president said the association is limited on what it can do to protect athletes, more especially with regards to influence from external forces, he said they will still do all they can to protect the country’s athletic assets, Tebogo included.

In the meantime, like the rest of us, the BAA will be watching to see the script Tebogo and his coach Dose Mosimanyane are writing. After all, we all now know, as we knew before, the potential he has. Whether that potential will be realized is a script yet to be written, and the only writers will be Tebogo and his management, including his coach.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper