In athletics, time is of the essence. At the end of a blistering run, athletes are quick to glance at the watch to check their time. Behind the time, there is a man who keeps the seconds ticking. Botswana's only timing specialist, Tshepo Kelaotswe talks to Mmegi Sport Staff Writer, CALISTUS KOLANTSHO about his underrated yet, critical engagement
For athletes to make the cut for major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the World Championships, there is a stipulated time set for them to complete their particular race. Without time, the race would be more of tea without sugar. Winning the race is one thing, and the time an athlete clocks is the cherry on top.
At the end of the finish line, there is a timer, the official whose job is to record athletes’ times. Tshepo Kelaotswe is Botswana’s only timing specialist. He started off as an athlete and his curiosity eventually led him to pursue a course in timing.
Today he is the only Certified International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Timing Specialist and lecturer in the country. In fact in Africa, there are only two timing specialists and lecturers, Kelaotswe and Zambian, John Chizu. Kelaotswe said he quit athletics in 2008 and had intended to take up athletics coaching.
In 2009, the then executive committee of Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) requested him to return and serve athletics.
The Ramotswa-born Kelaotswe said before returning to athletics, electronic timing caught his eye. Kelaotswe said it was not a walk in the park for him to achieve his dream. The journey was full of obstacles especially when it came to the financial aspects.
“I started training with some people but they left due to pressure. The first seven competitions were horror. I felt like quitting, leaving the equipment behind,” he said.
Kelaotswe continued with his struggle and in 2011 he came across a user manual for TimeTronics from their website.
The 38-year made a breakthrough when he managed to communicate with TimeTronics director who was based in Belgium. TimeTronics is one of the world’s leading dealers in timing products. “Communicating with the director came at a charge but as time went on I managed to convince him to reconsider the charges. He taught me a programme called Time Viewer. Through it, I would do physical connections of the timing system. The director would take full control of my laptop from Belgium and operate it while I watched. From then on, I began exploring the timing system,” Kelaotswe said.
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“Overseas it is a full time job but here it is a different story. I volunteer despite numerous proposals I have made to the BAA for financial assistance. At the moment nothing is coming forth,” he said.
Prior to the 2014 Gaborone Africa Youth Games, Kelaotswe was sent on a wild goose chase to Kenya by BAA. “I was assured of a timing course with TimeTronics in Nairobi organised by IAAF Regional Development Centre (RDC). When I got there, I realised that it was a seminar not a course. I took advantage of the seminar to market my skills to rest of the continent,” he said.
It was at this seminar where Kelaotswe met Chizu. A breakthrough came for the two in 2017 when they were invited for training in Germany. He said that he tried to secure funding from BAA and the private sector but failed. Kelaotswe said his family came onboard to cover the expenses.
“After the training, together with Chizu we proceeded to TimeTronics headquarters in Belgium. We toured the factory to advance our skills. The trip was worth everything about timing,” he added.
Kelaotswe said he has proposed to BAA that he wanted to familiarise himself with other timing products such as Omega and Seiko, which normally time IAAF competitions. He said the intention was to find out why them (Omega and Seiko) and not TimeTronics.
Kelaotswe said despite the challenges he faces when dealing with the BAA, he is grateful to the athletics association for allowing him to use their timing equipment.
Kelaotswe was invited to conduct IAAF Electronic Timing Course in Lusaka in December.
“I was excited about the opportunity. I went there, together with Chizu and trained participants from English speaking countries in Africa,” he said.
Kelaotswe said he is passionate about electronic timing and he explores it with every competition. “I enjoy it when athletes qualify from my service. It is a feeling I cannot explain,” said Kelaotswe.