With all the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, athletics has one more time proven that they are the best performing National Sport Association (NSA) in the country. The ever-shining sporting code continued to set the bar high despite restrictions on sports for the better part of this year.
It all started when the men’s 4x400m relay team clinched a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The team comprising of Isaac Makwala, Baboloki Thebe, Zibane Ngozi and Bayapo Ndori clocked 2:58.33 during the heats to set a new Africa Record. They went on to set another African record in the final after clocking 2:57.27, which secured the country a bronze medal. The first ever Olympic medal in the relays category finally delivered some soothing news following a devastating period in which the country grappled with the COVID-19 Delta variant.
While the country was still celebrating the milestone reached by the team, the national Under-20 team also did wonders at the World Under-20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. Team Botswana finished in position seven with three gold medals and one silver medal. Tebogo Letsile was the toast of the championships when he broke barriers and won the first ever gold medal in 100 metres for the country. Letsile also had a brilliant run in the 200m. He took silver behind Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike in the 200m. He then set the national Under-20 records of 10.22 and 10.11 in the process. His 10.11 clocking broke the senior national record, surpassing Makwala’s former mark of 10.20 set seven years ago.
Anthony Pesela became the first athlete from this country to win gold in the 400m at the World Under-20 Championships, improving on Karabo Sibanda’s bronze from 2016. Coming to Nairobi with a personal best of 46.10, Pesela stunned the rest of the field to win the title in a championship record of 44.58, becoming only the third African after Nigeria’s Awotoro Adediran (1994) and Nduka Awazie (1998) to win the men’s 400m. Athletics wrapped up the year by sending a younger team to the AUSC Region V Games in Maseru, Lesotho where they raked home 30 medals (16 gold, seven silver and seven bronze).
Still in athletics, Batswana’s dreams were shattered in the men’s 800m at the Olympics when Nijel Amos, who was a favourite to clinch a gold medal collided with USA’s Isaiah Jewett in the semi-final. Amos, a silver medalist at the London 2012 games behind the brilliant David Rudisha, had qualified with the fastest time to the semi-finals, but tumbled to miss out on a bid for another Olympic medal.
The officials, however, later gave Amos a lifeline to run that final only for the Marobela-born 800m specialist to suffer a quad muscle injury. He stepped into the 800m final knowing at the back of his mind that a medal was unlikely. He was up against a strong field. Amos eventually finished in eighth place in a disappointing 1:46.41 time, well off the 1:42.91 he ran in Monaco just a month before the Olympics.
The year also saw Amantle Victor-Nkape (Montsho) announcing her retirement after an illustrious career spanning more than two decades. The 38-year-old said when announcing that it was a difficult decision to make as age had caught up with her. She was part of the team that participated in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July. Montsho grew up at a time when female athletes were not encouraged to participate in sport let alone have a successful career in it.