Local 400m runner Isaac Makwala may not have been born great. However, greatness was definitely thrust upon him during the recent IAAF World championships in London, UK.
The Tutume-born taciturn sprinter may not have brought home a medal from London but he has won the hearts of over a billion track and field enthusiasts around the world.
The story of Makwala has now become legendary. The runner found himself in the eye of a raging controversy after he was denied the opportunity to compete in the 400m finals at the London Championships due to suspicions that he had contracted the norovirus. Being denied entry into the stadium turned the attention of the world to both Makwala and his native country, Botswana. The unpopular decision by the IAAF led to an incredible and emotional 200m solo run in the wet track that saw the 30 year old qualify for the 200m semi finals, another race he was denied in the preliminary stages of the event.
Nevertheless a lot of people do not really know the soft-spoken runner who easily blends into the crowd. Botswana Guardian recently visited the man who knows Makwala best, being his elderly father, Wonderful Makwala at his Tutume residence almost a 100km away from Francistown.
The elderly Makwala, a traditional Kalanga farmer, has been blown away and amazed by his own son before he went on to conquer the world at the age of 30. Makwala senior first noticed his son’s gift of running when he was in the early years of primary school. “I would often be called to come and witness my son leaving behind grown men in races before he was even a teenager. Nonetheless, I never approved of this, as I wanted him to focus on his academics at Mpane primary school,” Makwala said. As a grown man and world-class runner, Makwala often left his father in awe due to his physical abilities. By the year 2006 Makwala was already making money from his numerous running assignments and investing most of it in cattle farming. “One day my son arrived from a competition in South Africa. When he got to the cattle-post he told me he liked one of my bulls and wanted to buy it. I confronted him over the matter asking him whether he had enough money because I was charging P5000 for the bull, as I admired the beast myself.” After making the offer, the elderly Makwala said he saw his son cleaning himself up and what would follow the brief negotiations over the bull left the elderly man speechless. “He immediately set off from the cattle-post to cash the money from Sowa town. That is 52 km from my cattle post near the Makgadikgadi and he ran the distance in one day.” Isaac, who rears cattle alongside his father, is now a cattle farmer and spends most of his time at the cattle-post when he is not competing around the world. Makwala’s heart-wrenching experiences at the London World Championships brought pain and sadness to his family. “I was sad when I saw how badly he was being treated on TV. His mother and I turned to prayer. That experience brought sadness in both Bokalaka and Mmangwato. The president even came to my house and discussed the matter”.
Nonetheless, the elderly Makwala said sadness in the family did not last long as he was soon shouting at the top of his voice when Makwala went on his historic time attack in a bid to qualify for the 200m finals. “I was screaming ‘Gondolo’ that’s the nickname I gave him which means young bull”. Wonderful Makwala said his son has brought both pride and prestige to the family name after President Ian Khama recently announced that a stadium facility planned for Tutume village, will be named after the runner. Makwala’s older brother Isaiah Makwala is equally proud of his sibling’s achievements. “He is the last born in the family from my father’s second wife. He grew up right before my eyes, we were never separated for long periods,” he said, adding that Isaac was always enthusiastic about sports. “However football was closer to his heart when he was at Pandagala Secondary School. He also played as a defender for a local team called Gulana. During that time we could see that he could run but we did not think he would reach these heights.” However, Makwala was sort of a late bloomer as he only discovered his true destiny and calling after attending a one-year carpentry course at Nswazwi brigade.
“After attending Nswazwi brigade he got into proper athletic structure and competed nationally. I remember one of his international running call ups was in Singapore.”Isaiah Makwala described his sibling as an enthusiastic farmer who continues to buy cattle with the handsome proceeds he makes from competing in the world stage.
“He spends most of his time in Tutume and supports a local team called Magapatona United. When Isaac competes the whole village is often buzzing with the hype. ”
Makwala’s elder brother described the painful experience of having watched his younger brother being denied access into the stadium where he was due to face South African archrival Wayde Van Niekerk and others in the 400m final.
“I was attending a funeral when I heard something was wrong in London. During that time I was communicating with him through social media and he told me he was fit to run. This experience clearly affected his confidence”.
Makwala said it was sad that his brother was treated this way, as his running career will soon end due to his age. Meanwhile, if there is a single unsung hero in the Isaac Makwala success story it will definitely be Zibane Molopo, a lecturer and coach at Nswazwi brigade. Molopo first met Makwala around 2005 when he started working at the brigade. Molopo said when he met the athlete he was already engaged in track and field activities and about to complete his studies at the school. “I got engaged in sports activities and realised that Makwala had power”. Molopo, who was not formally trained as a coach said he did research on the Internet and contacted athletics clubs around the country. “I took Makwala through basic training in 200 and 400m. For 400m he ran 600m and for 200m I made him run 300m”. Molopo said the brigade did not have proper training facilities but Makwala was both energetic and dedicated and would wake up to train at 4am. Molopo said he took the young Makwala through tough training processes including running in the sand or through the rain. “I also joined him in long distance running including a 12 km stretch where I often got a lift and he caught up with me later on”. According to Molopo, Makwala has always been a disciplined athlete who could easily record 45 seconds in local 400m races. Makwala joined the national team between the ages of 18 and 20 and later went on to compete in places like South Africa and Seychelles. “Back in the day I helped the up and coming athlete to acquire a passport to compete outside the country”. Molopo who also coaches volleyball, said Makwala soon acquired a life-changing scholarship and joined the likes of Amantle Montsho in Dakar, Senegal. “We still retain a good relationship today. He often lets me know when he is going to compete”. Makwala was discovered from the same area as fellow international athletes, Glody Dube and Nijel Amos.
Quizzed on what makes this part of the country stand out in producing quality athletes, Molopo said the school system in the area encourages athletes to do extracurricular activities including sports. Molopo said it is unheard of for school-going children not to participate in sport activities in the Tutume area. Makwala surprised the nation and the world on July 14th 2017 during the Barcelona Diamond League when he became the first man in history to run a 200m within 20 seconds and a 400m within 44 seconds on the same day. He recorded 43.92 seconds in the 400m.
The President of Botswana Lieutenant General Dr Ian Khama said the IAAF should have given Isaac Makwala the opportunity to run another solo time trial for the 400m final. Khama, who is both passiionate and enthusiastic about sports, said Makwala should have received if his time qualifies him to in the envisaged 400m time trial.
Many around the world felt was unfairly denied an opportunity to win a medal in the 400 m finals. Speaking to BG Sports in an exclusive interview this week, Khama said the IAAF should have allowed Makwala to compete on his own and if his time is better or equalled whoever came first, he should have been awarded a gold medal. “I am not saying take away from the person who did win, but he should have been given his medal. Similarly the same should have been done if his time equalled or better than those who won any medals,” Khama said.
The president argued that there have been situations where athletes record a similar time and the tie resulted in both competitors being awarded the same medals. “IAAF should have followed the same example and allowed him to match the times in those categories.”
However, Khama said his government cannot pursue that matter further as they are not allowed to interfere with the decisions and or sports administration matters. The president praised Makwala for doing extremely well despite all the challenges that he faced. The enthusiastic Khama pointed out that he was speaking as both the number one citizen and a citizen of Botswana. “To put it mildly I was suspicious, I could not understand when, I heard he (Makwala) was unwell and that he was supposed to be on quarantine but I actually saw it on television when he was being prevented from entering the stadium. He was confronted by about 3 or 4 officials and I thought to myself, but if you are worried about someone spreading some virus, you would not want them to mix with anybody, not just athletes , but the more people you come into contact with, the more you are going to spread the virus.” Khama said in such a case one would have expected that if Makwala had anything contagious he would have been confined to a medical centre and a medical ward or bed and limit the contact with anybody but that was not the case. “He said he was feeling well enough to participate in that particular event and he was prevented from doing so.
I think it was an extremely unfortunate decision. I used the word suspicious, but you know the IAAF is a credible organisation, so one would not want to suggest that there was something underhand.” The president said the matter was both badly and incompetently handled and proof of this is when they then allowed Makwala to qualify for the 200 metres running on his own, which was something quite rare. “The fact that they said you can go and qualify , but you will have to do it on your own is an indication to me that clearly they were wrong. If they were right, they would have said to him that sorry your opportunity to qualify is over. So they had him there running on his own allowing him to qualify which I think is the proof.”
Khama said Makwala did extremely well because the others earlier ran when the track was dry, adding that it was not raining when Makwala’s rivals were competing amongst themselves, which motivated them to obviously do better times. “ To run on his own on a wet track when it was raining Makwala did well to eventually qualify under those conditions
Khama conceded that Makwala did not win the 200 metre finals there are usually extenal factors at play.
“I think when you perform be it an athlete or any line of work that you do, there are always factors which can affect your performance day to day, it could be anything, and I think what had happened to him probably affected his performance in the finals, especially when you know the 200 metres is not his favourite race, but rather 400 metres.” Khama is of the opinion that should the IAAF have done the same for the 400m even though they had already ran the finals.
The question that remains regarding the matter is whether the matter is over as far as government is concerned or will it the prusued further. Khama’s response was that when it comes to sports administration, government does not interfere. “The best example is with football and FIFA. Governments are not supposed to or are not able to intervene.The best thing you can do and I know the minister was briefing me was that he and the team of officials we had in London were consistently mounting pressure on the IAAF to appeal and make representation on Makwala’s behalf and at the end of the day there is nothing that the government can do as we have no influence over the IAAF.”
“I think the matter was badly handled and he has been denied an opportunity to excel. As an athlete you are limited by your youth, when you lose an opportunity it’s a disadvantage as he is 30 years old. His career is pretty much coming to an end, but we will support him for as long as he represents this country.” Khama said it is unfortunate that someone from the country had an opportunity to win a medal and that opportunity was taken away from him. “We do not know If he will have another opportunity again, and that is the very sad thing . Those people should know better, the head of IAAF was an athlete himself so he knows what it means for him to be able to participate.”
Quizzed on whether he was serious about building a sports facility in Tutume and naming it after Makwala, Khama said government was intending to do so. Khama said building stadiums around the country came at great costs. “The programme was derailed by budgetary constraints and recessions and so on. Yet we have recognised that we must try as best as possible to provide facilities for our sports people.” What we have basically decided is that we want to put up stadiums, we do not have to build the Gaborone type of stadium everywhere in the country.
“We can put up sports complex or mini stadium enough to take care of athletics, football, volleyball, softball etc, and seating stands for spectators, that we should attempt to do and we have agreed to do that for each constituency.” We were going to start off with 20 areas. “What I had said in Tutume is that the village will be included in the first batch. Whatever we put in Tutume will be made after Makwala in recognition of his courage and determination in the face of the great challenges he came across. I am fully aware that all our athletes are determined and courageous people, but if you think of what he went through and how he qualified for the finals under those circumstances.”
Botswana’s 400m icon Isaac Makwala this week made his way into IAAF World Championship folklore following a controversial disqualification from the 400m race final on Tuesday night in London, UK. However on Wednesday night the local athlete shocked the world when he managed to qualify for both the 200m semi final and final race within two hours.
This week Makwala was one of the most talked about people in the world after taking part in a solo race at the ongoing World championships. The intriguing run saw Makwala qualify for the 200m semi final just hours before the final race qualifier where he came second to Isaiah Young of the USA.
The local athlete became the subject of a major controversy when he was denied entry into the stadium facility where he was due to compete for the 400m final against South African rival Wayde Van Niekerk and his compatriot Baboloki Thebe. Makwala was denied access into the stadium after allegations that he was one of the 30 athletes who were affected by the norovirus following an outbreak at a hotel where some of the athletes are staying. However, the runner insisted that he was never tested for the virus by IAAF doctors.
The following day the issue had become an international uproar and quickly knives were drawn for the IAAF top brass who were swift to act on the matter. A solo race was ordered in which Makwala ran against the clock to beat the 20.53 sec required to qualify for the 200m semi final.
FULL STORY ON THE LATEST EDITION
The world of athletics is expected to tune in tonight as sensational local 400m runners Isaac Makwala and Baboloki Thebe take to the track against some of the best athletes in the world tonight. The IAAF encounter is expected to air live tonight at 2025hrs.
Both Makwala and Thebe have shown tremendous form ahead of the IAAF world championships scheduled for London next month. However, the duo will once again square off against the speed and celebrity of 400m-world champion Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa in the glitzy principality of Monaco.The 400m race comes as a repeat of the previous July 6th Diamond league encounter held in Lausanne where Wayde dominated the race clocking 43.62.
Thebe came second and clocked 44.02 while Makwala came third with 44.08.Even though Thebe and Makwala have for the past few weeks been shining at the ongoing Diamond league, Van Neikerk remains the man to beat in 400m.Nevertheless, fierce battle is expected to erupt tonight as most athletes will be preparing for the upcoming World Championships billed for the 2nd of August in London.
The unpredictable and fast paced Thebe has age on his side, at the age of 20, will be a future threat to 25-year-old Van Nerikek. On the other hand, Makwala also made his critics eat humble pie when he set a new National Record (NR), Meet Record (MR) and World Leader (WL) in his 200m race last week.
However tonight will not be about who comes first but rather gearing up to the major event in London. “I am happy with how the athletes are performing; I believe they are in good shape and form to make us proud in London in a few weeks, said Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) Spokesperson Ipolokeng Ramatshaba in an interview with BG Sport.
Ramatshaba said athletes should have enough rest ahead of the championships; the athletes should try to get sufficient rest in the last remaining days in order to prevent unforeseen circumstances such as injuries and muscle fatigue. “Maybe two or less races for now then they call it a day, I believe they are in contact with their managers and are receiving all precautionary advice. The BAA spokesperson raised concerns ahead of the world championships. “They are doing everything to prevent the 2014 catastrophe that befall local heroine Amantle Montsho when she was implicated in doping saga.
Currently athletes are competing at the Diamond league without any proper supervision of BAA officials, including coaches. Ramatshaba said it is impossible for them to send both coaches and team managers to the tournament.“Sometimes it is not about the money but the period of the event and they travel a lot, however we are always having talks with our athletes and even-though we are excited about their current performances we still hope they do not fall into the doping trap,” he said.Ramatshaba said they are confident in the team which consists of professionals who can easily shy away from temptations but argued that in most instances athletes dope unwillingly and unaware. The world championships will end on the 18th of August. Meanwhile other teams are said to be on camp in England.
The ongoing All Africa Games in Congo’s capital city of Brazzaville, just like the previous editions, are a sham, and efforts should be speeded up to reform and restructure them. To achieve this quickly, it may well be in order that the African sports ministers who run the games must be told to shape up or ship out.
As it is, sporting enthusiasts across the continent are deprived of the real cream of African sports with the absence of athletics superstars as well as other players in major team events such as basketball and volleyball. And the root of all this is the poor management of the games at whose helm are people who are not necessarily sportspersons at heart, but are there at the will of their presidents who may even have appointed them to the sports portfolio out of favour. As various nations continue to celebrate some bagged Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the Pan African games, a tussle for the control of the event by continental sports ministers and their countries’ respective Olympic chiefs is searing on the sidelines.
The African Union Sports Council (AUSC), led by sports ministers, wants to continue being in charge of the continental games while the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) feels the games should be run under their ambit – and given the shambles that have characterised the Games over the years, perhaps the time has come to allow ANOCA, a body run by bona fide sportspersons, to take over the ownership of the games as they so aggressively want to. Perhaps the African Olympic movement can bring some semblance to the games that have been a farce and are continuing to play ‘tenth fiddle’ to all other major international sport events across the globe. The politicians continuing to run the Games will not bring to an end a situation where top continental athletes continue to absent themselves mainly because they despise the value the games add to their professional ambitions, as well as the event’s general organisation.
It has been a norm for the Games to live beneath expectations as most competitors have not often been the best of the continent. Even as recent as the 2003 Games in Abuja, Nigeria, the then cream of African athletics in the likes of 800m sensation Maria Mutola of Mozambique, Haile Gerbrselassie of Ethiopia and the then marathon world record holder Paul Tergat of Kenya were conspicuous absentees from the event when the whole continent had waited to cheer them up. Big athletes often find other international events more appealing, better organised and lucrative. The argument has always been for such big stars to treat their homeland with respect and appreciate the games as a vehicle through which the African Union seeks to unite Africans. But many such athletes have often argued that the games are poorly-organised and marketed, with the past editions not even managing to attract any television interest.
The last All Africa Games in Mozambique are a case in point – there was little marketing of the Games and with no television rights organised, Africa itself, and the rest of the world, could not see what the continental stars were doing! And, sports ministers being politicians rather than sportspersons, they are often trapped in the political patriotism drive of asking who the other non-African event organisers think they are rather than work to forge relations that will help in the synchronisation of all world events to avoid clashes that always leave African athletes on the fence. Every edition of the All Africa Games has thus been found to clash with one other event or another, especially the IAAF World Championships where the dates either overlap or clash directly as was the case with the previous edition in Mozambique. Even this year, the dates for the two competitions had only four days in between, whereas top athletes could need more time for recuperation between major events.
But the ministers do not understand this – otherwise they would do their scheduling of games in consultation with all other international event organisers, something the sports people at ANOCA would easily achieve given that most international events are run under the Olympic movement. The ministers, however, say they will not budge, and when they met at their Region 5 caucus meeting last week, they described ANOCA’s call for the control of the Games as “disrespectful and arrogant.” Botswana’s sports minister Thapelo Olopeng has since undertaken to discuss the stance of the African ministers further in a press conference he has called for next Monday. “African ministers have rejected and condemned ANOCA’s attempt to take ownership of the Games as disrespectful and arrogant,” Minister Olopeng said on Friday, adding that the Games “shall remain fully owned by Member States through the AUSC and that the position is non-negotiable.”
It is strange however, that ANOCA has no role in the only Olympic-style event meant for African sports people, with governments saying they cannot trust sportspersons with their money. Only in Africa! The well-acclaimed Asian Games, Pan-American Games and the European Games are run by their Olympic movements and are thus used as Olympic qualifiers. In contrast, most disciplines within the African Games are not used as Olympic qualifiers hence some top athletes see no need to participate at the games. In the end, the shine of African sports continues to be eclipsed by political wrangling and in-fighting over who should run the games. In the meantime, development suffers and there is little improvement in the organisation of games meant for the athletes. It should thus not surprise anyone when most top African stars end up switching nationalities to represent more progressive countries overseas.
Perhaps the ministers at the AUSC – in case they do not let go of the Games - should start working harmoniously with other international event organisers to avoid the recurring clashes that have characterised the continental games for years. Athletes often find themselves having to run themselves to exhaustion in search of world prestigious accolades only to dash to Africa to make courtesy appearances where quality is inevitably compromised. This is why the All Africa Games don’t usually produce world record-breaking performances because African top stars treat them the same way premier league football stars in Botswana treat Christmas holiday matches at their home villages. They feel there is little to fight for at such games. A couple of days before the games in Congo, Africa’s sprint sensation Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, who is Africa’s and Commonwealth Games’ best in the short sprints, asked not to be included in Nigeria’s All Africa Games team, giving no reasons for her decision. She is nowhere near the games, yet she would have been the easy favourite to win Gold in her races – 100m and 200m. Yet she was at the IAAF World Championships in China where she made this announcement.
Many African athletes are often torn between these international events and the African Games. Even Botswana’s 400m star Amantle Montsho had to arrive late at the 2011 Games in Mozambique because she had just been at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Other African athletes stayed away. This year, Isaac Makwala and Nijel Amos could not travel to Congo with Team Botswana because there were still more important events to attend to in Zurich and Berlin immediately after their participation at the world championships. The general disdain for the All Africa Games by most athletes is such that they can afford to participate in a series of European and American events in a short space of time without crying of exhaustion, yet when they have to come to an African event they give out a series of excuses. It is no secret that they see no value in the Games. The current games have also seen countries like Tunisia, Kenya and Egypt send their second string volleyball teams to the Games because they clash with an ongoing major FIVB world cup event taking place in Hiroshima, Japan.
All of the IAAF World Championships’ Gold medalists from Kenya are not competing at the Games but are busy at other international athletics events. Ethiopia too will not have any of their Gold medalists except 5000m world champion Almaz Ayana. There has also been doubts about the participation of South Africa’s 400m world champion Wayde van Niekerk although he too was named in Team SA. Such is the result of poor management of the Games by their handlers, resulting further in the lack of quality that could see the rest of the world and top sponsors having interest in the games. As it is, companies like Samsung would not care much about the All Africa Games because at about the same time the Games are ongoing in Congo, top African athletes are competing at their events as has been the case with David Rudisha, Mohammed Aman, Amos and Makwala who have just been at the IAAF Samsung Diamond League. It is for this reason that the Games should be taken from the hands of politicians and be run by sportspersons who will best work with the IOC to give the games a slot far away from other major events. The issue of governments funding the games should be treated as much as the situation at Football where governments provide the funding, and football people run the game.
Yet the sports ministers do not like that. At the Africa International Sports Convention (CISA) that was held this March in Rwanda, Ugandan sports minister Charles Bakkabulindi was clear that sports administrators like the National Olympic body chiefs could not be entrusted with Government money.
“We should not forget why the African Union came up with the All Africa games concept. The games started as a political outfit. Which means that the ministers need to remain at the policy and supervisory levels of these games. The sports leaders need to see that we can only be partners. They have the experience, they have the mandate, but the Government wants to see and wants to know what they are doing,” the sports minister clearly stated. Yet the infamous and chaotic constituency tournaments in Botswana are a clear example of what a disaster it can be if governments force through the control of sports events simply because money comes from them. It is no different to a rich football club owner who starts meddling in team selection issues – the team never performs, hence the shambles that is the All Africa Games.