After initial doubts, Gaborone will finally explode into a ball of karate action as the Africa Karate Championship (UFAK) gets underway today.
The championship has attracted 28 countries from the continent, with more than 1,000 athletes and officials.
Pressure is on the host nation, after a good performance at the 2018 edition in Rwanda Women kata and men’s kumite teams won bronze medals.
Gofaone Mosupiemang won a silver medal in the men’s under 75kg kumite.
Entle Maungwa won a bronze in the women’s individual kata and Ofentse Bakwadi brought home silver in the individual kata.
Mogakolodi Motlhabi is one of the experienced karatekas in the national team.
Motlhabi will be making his UFAK debut despite being in the game for many years. He told Mmegi Sport that people did not believe in him.
“In some instances I could win a gold medal at Zone VI and I would not be selected for the Africa Games. It was only Shihan Mpho Bakwadi who gave me a chance in 2011 at the Africa Games and Chris Ponatshego in 2014. But the trip was called off due to Ebola outbreak in DRC. My coaches at federation level have never taken me seriously,” he said.
Motlhabi said everything is on track for the championship as the team had prepared well.
“The Bloemfontein training camp assisted with team bonding and training in a different environment makes one believe that they are in good shape. Ponatshego should be given a chance because he is still new in coaching, he can do a lot for us. Most of us believe in him,” he added.
Motlhabi said the 2019 UFAK edition is expected to be more interesting since it is an Olympic qualifier. Motlhabi added that as a seasoned athlete, he knows how to handle pressure.
The 32-year-old would be fighting in the over 84kg category. Kata sensation, Ofentse Bakwadi said it is all systems go and at the moment he is just brushing up his preparations.
For her part, Thato Malunga is expected to cause an upset as she makes her debut in the senior women individual kumite under 61kg category. All along she has been fighting in the under 55kg.
Malunga said the changes emanated after she underwent intensive para-military training, which made her gain more muscles.
She said preparations are going well even though they started late.
“Last week, we were in Bloemfontein and we pushed in terms of physical and karate training. Physical instructors conducted physical training while karate training was by our coaches. The camp was beneficial but it was held late.”
Her target is to grab a gold medal, which would put her in line to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
“I must go into that tatami and give my everything. My wish is for the toss to put me against the so-called top countries in karate such as Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.
I win against them because when it comes to other countries like Senegal, Congo and Burkina Faso they have rough athletes and that can make the competition difficult,” she said.
Malunga would be in the UFAK stage for the fifth time and in the past she has always achieved a podium finish.
Centy Koma, a member of the women’s kata team will also be competing in the senior women under 50kg, and said she was fired up. Koma would be getting her second UFAK badge.
“When I made my debut last year in Rwanda, my coach advised me to relax and avoid putting myself under pressure. It was all about experience but now I should go out there and prove myself,” she said.
Koma said this time around things have changed because she has to assist team kata to defend the 2018 bronze medal or do better.