Five years ago in Rio, Botswana men’s 4x400m team looked destined for greatness. Back then, the likes of Isaac Makwala and Nijel Amos were at their peak, the latter having won Botswana’s only Olympic medal, a silver, 4 years earlier in London.
Joining them was a cohort of talented youngsters in the mould of Baboloki Thebe, Karabo Sibanda, Onkabetse Nkobolo and Leaname Maotoanong, just to mention a few.
Of this talented crop, both Thebe and Sibanda were on the cusp of stardom. Their stock was on the rise. Fast forward 5 years later, Thebe and Sibanda failed to qualify for Olympics and their careers have taken a nose dive due to off the track disturbances.
Nkobolo’s once promising career has all but ended while Maotoanong, though still very active, has also failed to make the Olympics. This has prompted the question; what could have gone wrong with the team and its once promising athletes?
Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) Vice-president, Oabona Theetso said, under normal circumstances, they would have wished for the likes of Thebe, Sibanda and Nkobolo to have made the team.
He however said a lot of unforeseen circumstances, including injuries have made it impossible for the said athletes to recapture their form and make the team.
“We might have wanted the aforementioned athletes to have qualified but it was not the case due to various factors amongst them, injuries,” said Theetso.
The BAA vice-president absolved the association of any blame in the decline of the athletes’ fortunes and said he believes injuries played a vital role in the failure to qualify.
“I do not think we did anything wrong as the administration. Remember that Thebe and Sibanda missed world championships, Sibanda did not even compete at commonwealth games in 2018 due to an injury,” he explained.
Looking to the future, Theetso said there are young athletes who are coming up really well. The likes of Anthony Pasela, Bernard Olesitse, Onneile Phokedi to name but a few.
For his part, athletics coach and administrator Thatayaone Lefatshe said while injuries played a part, they are not completely to blame for the current situation.
Lefatshe said after the 2016 World Junior Championships and Rio Olympic games, the then young talents of Thebe, Sibanda and others were not given time to recover as should have been the case.
“We could have allowed those youngsters to recover and start off season training around September and October without pushing them too hard. I think we got too much excited, we have since learnt our lesson. I believe going forward we should protect boys like Pasela, Olesitse and others to avoid the situation we are facing now,” he explained.
He said if the upcoming talent is protected, the country can and will be able to produce a team that may even surpass the 4 X 400 men’s relay of 2016. Pointing out that even third-party interference has played a vital role in the turnout of how some of the athletes hold themselves.
“I believe we need to be intentional and deliberate in our efforts. In other countries, Sports Ministries have decided on their National Sports, like in India, a population of over 1 billion have decided on Cricket being their national Sport. In America, a population of over 330 million have Athletics and Basketball. In Kenya it’s Athletics in Middle and Long Distance. Jamaica is Athletics in Sprints. We can double football and athletics to be the country’s sports code,” said Lefatshe.
Sport journalist Calistus Kolantsho is of the view that discipline is the proper medication if aligned with growth and fame. He said because of lack of proper discipline, the country lost a remarkable relay team which could be representing the country to date.
He highlighted that the main issue is that coaches and the BAA should be able to control these athletes. Due to lack of this control, Kolantsho said now the country is faced with a situation where athletes become big headed.
“BAA and coaches should learn to control athletes because they become big headed after winning big tournaments. If they do not take a stand on this we will continue losing athletes in this regard,” he said.
The comforting news is that there are many athletes who are faster than what we have seen in the past and according to Kolantsho; it is only a matter of time until they are identified.