Sprint star Tebogo eyes double Olympic gold



JOHANNESBURG:

Sprint star Letsile Tebogo hails from Botswana, a country famed for its diamonds, but it is gold he is seeking at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games this July and August.

The 100 and 200-metre athlete turns 21 in June, and the perfect belated birthday present would be becoming the first African to win events once dominated by his idol, Usain Bolt.

Known as the Lightning Bolt, the Jamaican won eight gold medals at Olympics and 11 at world championships between 2007 and 2017.

After 100m silver and 200m bronze medals at the world championships in Budapest last year, Tebogo tells AFP he has set his sights sky high.

“He (Bolt) is my idol — the person I most look up to. What he achieved was truly amazing. Whenever he ran, I watched him on TV.

“Everyone remembers Usain and I would love them to remember me too when I hang up my running shoes,” says the athlete based at the University of Oregon on the American west coast.

“I do not have to be the number one of all time — being among the top three will do just fine,” said the star raised in Kanye, a town 68 kilometres (42 miles) south of Gaborone, the capital.

Lofty ambitions indeed, but his form bears testimony to a sprinter on a mission that goes far beyond Botswana, a sparsely populated and landlocked southern Africa nation.

“The time has come for African athletes to dominate sprint events on the international stage,” he has said.

No African could boast a top-three 100m finish at a world championship until Tebogo starred last year at a Budapest stadium on a bank of the river Danube.

He clocked 9.88 seconds — 0.30 seconds outside the world record set by Bolt in 2009 — when finishing second behind American Noah Lyles in the final.

Lyles also won the 200m in the Hungarian capital followed by fellow American Erriyon Knighton with Tebogo third, 0.29 of a second behind the champion.

The two medals were the first won at a world championships by a male from Botswana — compatriot Amantle Montsho won 400m women’s gold and silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 events.

Another woman, his mother and former athlete Seratiwa, plays a continuous key role in the life of Letsile.

Unknown to him, she flew to Budapest for the championships and later told a Gaborone radio station about the pre-race nerves she suffered while watching her son.

“Why was I nervous? There is always the fear of a false start, disqualification, or that he could suffer a pulled muscle or some other injury.”

But while his mother was anxious, Tebogo was relaxed, saying later that “my mind was clear — it has to be because you cannot run a good race if stressed.

“I relax ahead of races by listening to traditional music from my homeland. Apart from the beautiful sounds, it reminds me of where I come from and who I am representing.”

Seratiwa added: “The way I see it, Letsile is not just running for Botswana, he is carrying the flag for all of Africa. That makes me extremely proud.

“The world probably views Letsile Tebogo as a rising athletics star, but when he comes back to Botswana he is my humble, respectful son.”

Seratiwa noticed that Letsile, from an early age, loved sport. Botswana is similar to most African countries in that football is the national sport.

Tebogo dabbled with football, but soon realised that athletics was his first love and developed into a star at back-to-back under-20 world championships.

In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in 2021 and in the Colombian city of Cali one year later, he won the 100m finals and finished second in the 200m finals.

Tebogo took a leaf out of the Bolt copybook in Cali, turning to gesticulate and smile at 100m silver medalist Bouwahjgie Nkrumie from Jamaica while cruising to the finish line.

“No disrespect was intended. I just wanted everyone watching at home to enjoy the race — to remind them a little bit about what Usain did back in the day,” explained Tebogo.



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