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Ikgopoleng, the reluctant boxer who rose to the top

CALISTUS KOLANTSHO
The master: Ikgopoleng (second from right) with some of his students
Khumiso Ikgopoleng is one of the most decorated boxers in the country but he had to overcome initial reluctance to move to the top.

Growing up in the hills of Lobatse, the young Ikgopoleng never thought about wearing the leather gloves, let alone conquering the boxing world.  

He grew up as a boy with weight issues and his friends used to tease him about it. He became determined to shed some of the weight. “I used to see the likes of (boxer) Gilbert Khunwane running up and down the hills of Lobatse back in 1996.  So I became motivated and decided to join them and I ended up becoming part of their gym.  This was just a way of losing weight, nothing else,” he said with a chuckle.

Ikgopoleng said the coach at the gym advised him to hit the punching bag and that way he would lose weight quickly.

Ikgopoleng said he held the view that boxing is more of a violent fight than a sport. 

“I continued training with the boxers and one day I was thrown into the lion’s den.  There was a tournament where I fought three bouts in a day, won two and lost one.  I got mad with the guy I lost to, so I decided to revenge and I went back and trained hard.  It was then that I took boxing seriously,” Ikgopoleng said.

He said he fought many competitions under the Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA), but never won a medal.

“I never liked to lose. If you beat me, I make sure that I revenge the next time we meet,” he said. Ikgopoleng was not as physically imposing, but believed in smart boxing. He fought in the 54kg category. “France Mabiletsa of Tsholofelo Boxing Club used to scout for boys with potential at schools and I was recruited by Biki Malaolo, who invited me to their gym,” he said.

But after completing Form Five in 1997, Ikgopoleng felt boxing was not ‘his thing’.

He said during Tirelo Sechaba, together with Khunwane,

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they trained at Tsholofelo as recruits. “Still at Tsholofelo, I would stay home and avoid training, pretending to be sick. My coach, Mabiletsa would go to my sister and talk to her about me. He did everything to make sure that I train and he was strict,” he said.

He said Mabiletsa once told him that he could only quit after competing at the Olympic Games. Ikgopoleng competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He then qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China before retiring from professional boxing the following year. Ikgopoleng was coach of the boxing national team that competed at the 2012 London Olympics.

“In 2015 I went to United States of America (USA) to become the head coach for The Corner Boxing Club in Boulder, Colorado State,” he said.

Ikgopoleng said he has now ended his contract with the club and is on his way to the Middle East where he has been offered another coaching job. Ikgopoleng, an International Boxing Association (AIBA) Three Star coach, said he gets a lot of support from his wife, Portia.

Mabiletsa said he noticed Ikgopoleng’s talent when he was a student at Lobatse Senior Secondary School. He said the young boxer had natural talent. “He had the technique. I could see his movements in the ring.  Together with Khunwane, they agreed to join Tsholofelo after completing Form Five,” he said.

Mabiletsa said they kept motivating the boxer up to a point where he believed in himself. He said back then, there were no qualified coaches and Mabiletsa used the experience he had gained during the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. “The techniques I taught them were way above any club in the country.  I told them that I was preparing them for Olympics and indeed that happened,” he said. Mabiletsa said Ikgopoleng has not lost touch with Tsholofelo despite being overseas.



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