When Christopher Ponatshego was appointed karate national team coach, the Botswana Karate Association (BOKA) was criticised for the move.
Ponatshego was seen as BOKA president, Tshepho Bathai’s blue-eyed boy.
Ponatshego made some unpopular decisions, which included dropping national team darlings, Oratile Caiphus and Thato Malunga ahead of the African Games.
He went further to dismiss assistant coach, Peter Molefhe on the eve of the African Karate Championships (UFAK), which Botswana hosted in July.
Some people thought he had lost his marbles but Ponatshego has been vindicated after he re-wrote the history books at the 12th African Games in Morocco with a youthful squad.
Karate had never won three medals in three team events but under Ponatshego, the team delivered. The team scooped four bronze medals in kata through Ofentse Bakwadi and male team kata that comprised Boemo Ramasimong, Vincent Magalie and Bakwadi.
The women team kata that had Entle Maungwa, Centy Kgosikoma and Lesego Masimola also won bronze. The male team kumite that was made up of Katlego Tsenene, Lemogang Koolopile, Thebe Duna, Gabriel Ramasimong and Tlotlang Ponatshego brought home a bronze medal.
Ponatshego admitted that it was not easy but they put up their best performance, to match the number of medals the country won at the 2015 African Games.
“We are short in silver but the number is the same.
We were knocked out by North Africans in the semi finals and bronze final, which means we were better than the rest of Africa.
One day, we will discover their secret. What makes me happy is that this is a young team and it is difficult to deal with teenagers,” said Ponatshego. He said prior to the competition, the team faced criticism about its age and lack of experience.
Ponatshego said he managed to take the team and made them champions. He said given a chance in the next few years they could be
“When I took over as a coach, I told Bathai that I believe in development. For years, BOKA had an older team, which did not bring positive results, and right now we took a youthful team that brought results and even better,” he said.
“If we push them more, they can do better because this is the future of karate. If anybody is not happy, I wonder what he or she would be asking for.”
Ponatshego said at the Africa Games, karate had 16 categories and over 50 countries participated. Botswana made it to 10 semi finals and a similar number of bronze finals against North African powerhouses, something that has never happened before.
He said in the history of African Games, team kumite has never won a medal or even, proceeded to the semi finals. “We have never been to the semi finals in 10 slots, let alone not even five. This is history.
One of the things I brought to this team is discipline and togetherness,” he added. Ponatshego said his first assignment, together with his assistant coach, Keone Kgorotlhe was UFAK 2019 and so far they are doing well.
He said it would be nice if they continue working together. Meanwhile, regarding Tokyo 2020 qualification, Ponatshego said initially they were about to write off Bakwadi and Maungwa.
“Their commitment was not at a level we expected. They have now started pushing themselves hard and they believe that they can make it.
They should be given an opportunity to take part in more competitions and they can qualify. The challenge would be if we are removed from coaching,” he said.
Ponatshego said the race for Olympic berths has widened and includes Lame Hetanang, Baatlareng Shabane, Kgosikoma, Koolopile and Lethabo Lekano.