Stunned silence swept through Gaborone on a typical spring Sunday afternoon. Athletics’ pin-up boy, Nijel Amos stuttered, stumbled before crashing out of the 800m semi-finals of the World Championship in China. The nation expected gold, but was instead served a cold Beijing dish of disappointment, Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
When Botswana’s World Championships team left the hopes of an expectant nation hung on the country’s most trumpeted athlete, Nijel Amos. He was seen as Botswana’s brightest hope for a medal after a stellar year and some dominant displays since his London 2012 silver medal.
Amos had brutally dominated his six of the seven meetings against world record holder, David Rudisha since 2012.
The World Championships are athletics’ second biggest stage after the Olympics. Amos, still regarded as wet behind the ear at the tender age of 21, had looked in belligerent form and was an overwhelming favourite for gold in Beijing.
But at a stadium known as the Bird’s Nest, Botswana’s goose failed to lay the golden egg.
Palpable disappointment blasted through from Gaborone to his birth place, Marobela where expectantly, hundreds had gathered around television sets to watch their favourite son’s march towards glory.
Reactions to the Beijing disappointment were swift. A nation united in rallying behind an athlete who has in the past brought countless joyous moments.
“He is still young and has the chance to redeem himself,” was the overriding feeling among many who took to various social networks to offer consolation. While Amos’ failure in the World Championships is not necessarily a train smash, it feels like one.
It was an unexpected anti-climax, a crowning moment crudely turning into a crying moment. It left a nation to scour the mangled heap for answers. Amos’ stumble with 200m to go was partly blamed for the close defeat.
Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, stumbled in the shorter 100m earlier on Sunday, but quickly recovered to claim top spot in the semi-finals. But Amos is not Bolt. He needed something special to upstage the long striding Rudisha who by the time of Amos’ stumble, looked assured and well on course.
From the six defeats, Rudisha had clearly drawn positive lessons. The Olympic champion timed his race to perfection. Amos has a knack of releasing his energy with 100m left with a strong finish. But he found Rudisha and second placed, Musaeb Balla of Qatar unyielding.
When Amos sprung to life in the closing stages of the race, Rudisha picked pace too and the dream of finishing first evaporated.
He turned his focus to overtaking Balla, but the old age demon of fizzling out at the line for local athletes brutally returned to haunt him. Balla just edged it and with the close finish, hopes of a medal flew out of the window, although Isaac Makwala offered prompt repair works yesterday afternoon.
After Amos had dared a nation to dream with his amazing form heading into the World Championships, no one envisaged the dream to be over as soon as Day Two of the competition.
It was a cruel reminder that Rudisha, despite moving closer to the twilight of his career, is still a wily-old fox. Amos has the talent but crucially, Rudisha produced the right tactic and proved why he has been in the business for ages and is regarded as the best in the distance.