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MAKWALA FINALLY TAKES GOLD

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BY ISAAC PHEKO Botswana’s 400m sensation Isaac Makwala is no longer an underdog. Makwala won gold and made a telling statement when he finally won in dominant fashion at the ongoing 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia this past Tuesday. The muscle-bound runner blitzed the 400m final with a scorching 44.35 sec beating compatriot Baboloki Thebe who came in second place at 45.09 sec. Walking down tunnel at the arena moments before the race Makwala gave away a lot in terms of body language and facial expression. Usually calm in his demeanour, the runner looked a little nervous seemingly murmuring something to himself and tampering with his trade mark arm sleeve.

Little did he know that he was to run a race defining his career. Powering out of the block when the race started, Badman immediately made his intensions clear and he left all his rivals behind as he kept his momentum until he finished the middle-distance final. For years, Makwala has been written off as just another gatekeeper, a journeyman who frequently finishes out of the podium. Having been a top athlete for the better part of the past decade, Badman saw young athletes emerging and frequently eclipsing his then mediocre career. The likes of Nijel Amos, Karabo Sibanda and Baboloki Thebe came from behind and were quickly revered as future star while the Tutume native was seemingly in the last legs of his unremarkable running career.

Perhaps one of the lowest chapters in Makwala’s career was when upstarts Baboloki Thebe and Karabo Sibanda beat Makwala to became African Champion 400m champions just over two years ago. Thebe’s compatriot Karabo Sibanda took silver in 400m at the Africa Championship held in Durban South Africa. Back then, the mediocre runner from Tutume was used as a measuring stick by young athletes moving up the ranks. If they beat Makwala, they knew they were on to bigger things. Nevertheless, two years down the line Makwala’s career took a completely different turn. Like vintage fine wine, Makwala seems to have mellowed with time. As the 2016 Rio Olympic games approached Makwala’s career started to gain serious traction, as the 30-year-old runner suddenly found his speed. Rugged, muscular and focused Makwala seems to have eluded injuries that have been stalling the career of less fortunate athletes. When the 2016 Olympics came around, Makwala did not bring any medals back home. Team Botswana seemed to have been lost in the midst of fast super stars like Wayde Van Nierkerk of SA and Kirani James of Grenada.

Following the Olympics, Makwala’s speed continued to impress leading up to the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. When he arrived in London, Makwala knew very little that destiny awaited him. Before competing in one of the preliminary races the on-form athletes were excluded from one of the preliminary heats following a nuro virus outbreak at the athlete’s village. A media storm surrounding the athlete quickly formed with fingers being pointed at biased IAAF officials. What followed the controversial decision was sensational as Makwala was allowed to embark on a solo run that would be broadcast live, around the world and made the runner a house hold name overnight. Once again both Makwala and his team mates failed to bring home any medals from the World Championships in London. Nevertheless, Makwala was given a hero’s welcome and gained worldwide prominence.

Earlier this week, Makwala’s celebrity status was elevated once again when he won gold in dominant fashion at the ongoing Games in Australia. Makwala and Thebe ended a four-year international medal drought in Botswana. However, the Badman is not yet done in the Gold Coast as his multitudes of supporters will be waiting with bated breath to see him grab another medal during the 4x400m relay event. The 4x400m relay team including Karabo Sibanda, Onkabetse Nkobolo and Baboloki Thebe will receive a major boost with when they take to the track. Makwala joins an elite club of Commonwealth gold medal winners including Nijel Amos and Amantle Montsho. This week, the man credited with discovering Makwala, Zibane Molopo said he was not surprised Makwala took gold at the Commonwealth.

A lecturer at Msawzwi brigade where Makwala studied carpentry, Molopo said his protégé ran a great race. “His body language was telling before the race as he seemed nervous. He was not relaxed at all. He is usually seated during the introductory walk but this time he seemed to be speaking or praying before the race,” Molopo said. “He seemed to have marked the Indian runner Muhammad Yahiya and did fairly well from the starting block. Once he hit the groove he focused on endurance in the first two hundred metres.” Molopo said his protégé seemed to be powering towards the finish in the last 50m of the race. “You could see that he was not even tired after the race. He focused on the screen and did not look for rivals on the sides.” According to Molopo Makwala’s age is not a factor. Age is nothing but a number and we are expecting him to stay competitive for the next two years provided he takes care of himself.

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Local boxers ready for regional tourney

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CONFIDENT: Newly unveiled LOC is confident that the regional tourney will be a success

Botswana Boxing Association (BoBA) this past Tuesday officially unveiled a Local Organising Committee (LOC) that has been tasked with preparing for the upcoming Zone 4 championships that are to be held in Botswana.

The team is headed by celebrated boxing legend France Mabiletsa and is expected to host more than seven countries that are expected to descend in Botswana in the next two weeks. Officiating at the event, Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) Vice Chairperson Tsoseletso Magang said that BoBA officials should refrain from interfering with the task given to the LOC. She noted that many sporting codes often give the LOC the responsibility of delivering an event only for the code members to bully themselves into the affairs of the LOC and disrupts the preparations.

Magang warned that there is little time left before the tournament, and with that, the LOC will need all the support to ensure they deliver a successful event. She noted that hosting the regional tournament gave Botswana an upper hand of fielding more athletes that will have an opportunity to qualify for the Africa Championships scheduled for later this year.

For his part, Mabiletsa noted that they have already hit the ground running and confident that the event will be a success. The competition will be hosted in Botho College and they are in talks with Ave Maria to accommodate athletes. “Life will be made much easier for athletes if they are accommodated at Ave Maria because it is closer to the competition venue,” he said.

He explained that the zone is made up of 12 countries of Lesotho, Angola, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe among others. However as of this past Tuesday, only seven had confirmed participation and they expect to finalize the logistics by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, a formidable national boxing team of eight men captained by Mmusie Tswiiige (60kg) and three ladies led by Lethabo Modukanele (48kg) will represent the country at the regional tournament.

According to the Head coach Lechedzani ‘Master’ Luza, the team has been on camp for the past three weeks. In his opinion, the team is ready to compete. “Generally, they are not bad, we need to work on a few things such as power and speed on some boxers, the defence department is also not bad,” he said.

Luza noted that Botswana has always established herself as a powerhouse and there is no doubt that majority, if not all team Botswana members will win a medal during competition time. He explained that the competition was one of the many leading to Tokyo 2020 Olympics and will give local boxers an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics.

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Branch does it again

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Local motorcycle racing sensation Ross Branch has continued his stellar form after securing overall second position in the internationally renowned Merzouga Rally. The race came to a conclusion this past weekend and Branch has proven his mettle amongst some of the best rally motorcyclists in the world.

The podium finish is expected to take the Dakar Rally racer to even greater heights in the hugely competitive and expensive sport. It has been barely two months since the talented local rider emerged as a top class racer at the Dakar Rally where he finished 13 and walked away with the fastest rookie of the 10 000 km odyssey.

At Merzouga, things seemed a little better for the rider as the terrain offer sand and rock as opposed to the treacherous dunes in Dakar. Branch who was using a different navigation system in Morocco showed his pace after winning the fourth stage of the race last week Thursday.

Prior to his podium finish Branch said Merzouga was only his second rally and he was willing to learn from some of the top riders in the sport. The KTM 450cc rider said he was now setting his sights on other major races including the 2020 Dakar Rally that has been confirmed for Saudi Arabia.

Since returning from the Dakar, Ross has stayed busy and competed at the cross-country championship in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, where he finished fourth. The local rider is expected to compete at the upcoming 1000 km Toyota Desert Race, an event he has won more than seven times.

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