Middle distance run neglected

Neo Masanako - BG Correspondent
Tuesday, 22 January 2019
LONG DISTANCE…Local athletics is focused on sprinters LONG DISTANCE…Local athletics is focused on sprinters

Although Botswana has marked herself as a force to reckon with when it comes to sprint running, there are grey areas that seem to hinder its middle distance running development.

Currently, 800m runner Nijel Amos is the only Botswana star competing during major international competitions. Amos became the best thing that happened to long distance running when he won silver during the 2012 summer Olympics held in London. It was Botswana’s first ever-Olympic medal. 

Seven years down the line Botswana is still struggling to find the next Amos, Glody Dube or even Mbiganyi Thee among others. Amos is now based in the United States, where he is believed to be busy polishing his career under the watchful eye of an international coach.  Perhaps what could have prompted the need to move to the United States was the obvious fact that Amos was alone, amongst sprint runners. That might have possibly made him to change lanes and find a conducive environment to explore his talent. 
The leading  female  star  of long distances, particularly the 42km run, Onneile Dintwe agrees that middle distance in Botswana is a foreign topic. She is running because it is something she loves however she is not even in a position to impart any knowledge to other developing athletes.

To be the star that she is, she had to cross borders and get the expertise from coaches based in South Africa. “I cannot say anything to young athletes but share with them my experiences or what works best for me. However, that is not enough because what works for me might not be what they need,” Dintwe said.The 33 year old believes that much emphasis is on sprints to an extent that even when they attended an International Association Athletics Federation (IAAF) coaching course back in 2011, 90% of it was all about sprints.

“I am not surprised because in an environment where you find that the leadership likes or was trained mainly on sprints, this is bound to happen. They might not even realize that such is happening because they are doing what they know best,” she said.
Dintwe advised that it was important that local coaches specialize as they cannot be in a position to master all field events, sprints, jumpers and long distance.

Evidently, the two prominent local athletics coaches Justice Dipeba and Mogomotsi Otsetswe have been doing very well as far as sprints are concerned. Following the discovery of 400m runners Isaac Makwala, Lydia Jele and others, the coaches managed to unearth mouthwatering talent in Baboloki Thebe and Karabo Sibanda.  The recently hosted African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Gaborone games also reflected another promising future in the 4x100 and 4x400 men’s relay team.  Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) has the potential to reproduce another Amos in the youthful Tshepiso Masalela but only if he is given the necessary attention. The young man scooped gold in his 1500m and 800m races.

“The athletes only prepare for three months or so before they are done for the year. It is high time they are given the same attention as sprints,” former 800m runner Dube said. Dube said that track and field events run throughout the year and that is how the athletes get to excel and continue to represent the country across borders. He noted that it was not impossible for Botswana to produce gold but it all boils down to the leadership and how committed they are to investing in athletes.

The BAA President, Mooketsi Thari also agrees that at the moment they are not doing enough. However, it is not out of ignorance but because they do not have the expertise to bring out the product they all want. “With technical events we have tried to find a volunteer that will assist our athletes and we can see that there is progress,” he said. Mooketsi said it was not easy to engage retired athletes because they do not have the funds to support their services. He added that voluntarism alone is not enough as people have bills to settle.

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