The brains behind the golden gems

Behind the scenes: Ndolo is credited with moulding Pesela and Tebogo PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
Behind the scenes: Ndolo is credited with moulding Pesela and Tebogo PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG

The 2020 World Athletics Under-20 Championships left the names of Letsile Tebogo and Anthony Pesela on almost every person's lip after gold medal winning performances in Nairobi, Kenya.

The two athletes and the 4x400m relay team are now the darlings of the nation. Usually the frontliners get all the plaudits, leaving out the brains behind the talent. Under-20 assistant coach, Meleko Ndolo has been credited with overseeing the rise of the two athletes. Ndolo gets emotional when he talks about the hard work when it comes to preparations. “We started preparing for the championships during the Botswana Games in 2019. That is where most of the athletes qualified, the likes of Tebogo, Jayson Mandoze and Boitshepiso Kelapile.

The rest of the athletes qualified during the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) series,” he said. Ndolo said they did not get a chance to prepare the team properly due to some challenges such as COVID-19. He said the athletes needed a exposure before competing at the world championships. Ndolo said the athletes could have competed outside the country because competing against local athletes they always triumph against, is not sufficient preparation. He said that led to a decline of the performance in Kenya, citing the 4x100m men’s relay that was disqualified due to a false start. “The stage was big for some of our athletes. When you talk of World Championships, it is not a joke; it is a big stage where all countries are present. The track setup is different so we need them to have exposure before such competitions.

That has taught me that we need psychologists. Imagine a Form Four student attending the World Championships for the first time, even before participating in regional competitions,” he said. Ndolo said the absence of a pshycologist is one element that is lagging in Botswana as there is a misconception that athletes do not need counselling. Regarding performance, Ndolo said he was impressed by the outcome. The team brought home three gold medals and a silver. Ndolo said that is because they had built confidence in the athletes ahead of the competition. “They trusted us as their coaches. I started coaching these athletes together with Chilume Ntshwarang since the 2016 Confederation of School Sport Association of Southern African (COSSASA) Games that were held in Swakopmund, Namibia. It is an indication that we have been together for a long time,” he said. Ndolo said they tried to talk to the athletes before travelling on what to expect but it is unfortunate that some bowed to the pressure.

He pointed out that 100m gold medalist, Tebogo is a gem hence he broke the national record twice on the same weekend. “He is still young and the schedule was heavy for him because he was doing two events (100m and 200m) and in four days he ran six races. He got tired and recovery was not enough. We were impressed by the outcome,” he said. Ndolo said he tailored a programme for Pesela. “For him to put up that performance at the world juniors, it was well planned. I once told you that we are going to qualify for the 2021 World Athletics Championships in Kenya and that is exactly what happened. We have been planning this from Maun. We were doing something that was showing us progress,” he said. Ndolo said that was why he was worried when Pesela was roped into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics 4x400m relay team.

He said his worry was that the inclusion might affect his momentum, but on the positive, it could have elevated him. He said indeed he improved and when he looked at his age mates, there was no pressure. “From here we are going back to prepare for Oregon without pressure. From Oregon we are going straight to Paris 2024 Olympics. That is when our programme ends,” he said. Ndolo said it is going to be difficult to find future stars. He pointed out that people might go round in circles but school sport is the base for development. “It is not easy to identify an athlete. I could watch a child running being in position four and I realise that is an athlete. Nobody could identify number four as an athlete. How many children are in clubs? Something should be done.

Programmes such as Constituency League have the power to bring out talent from communities,” he said. Ndolo said if it was according to his plans, the junior team could be going for Commonwealth Games while the seniors compete at the World Athletics Championships. He said the two championships are a week apart. Commonwealth Games are scheduled for July 28 to August 8 while World Athletics Championships are set for August 6 to 15. He said from there, the two groups would be combined for the World Relays. “There are a lot of uncertainties, we do not know when COVID-19 would end or when school sport would resume,” he said. When asked about resources needed to develop athletes, Ndolo said the only resource that Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) has is athletes and they do not have funds. “Preparations for international games are expensive. It requires conditioning, food amongst other things that an athlete needs to be a complete package.

If you look at other athletes from other countries, they are developed better than ours, even the body structure. We are still behind other countries. In some instances, it is by the grace of God that some athletes are from Maun and they are muscular,” he said. Ndolo said it is time to invite investors to assist. He said there is no point to reward a medallist because it means the sponsors are targeting a developed athlete. “I have experience of what I am talking about. I work with children from different areas such as Shakawe, Gudigwa not only Maun.

o keep these children in Maun, if any company could just come forward and assist me. In 2019, I told Pesela that we are going to Oregon and for that to happen I had to keep him in Maun and he cannot be in Etsha. I was paying for his rent and providing for his welfare and he is not alone. When you say such things, people think you are joking,” he said. Ndolo said when people say they are celebrating Pesela, he becomes emotional as some do not understand the sacrifices made. He said personal sacrifices have been made with many athletes such as Leungo Scotch.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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