On the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the anticipation grew enormous as Botswana’s long-standing heroine of the track and field. Amantle Victor Nkape (formerly Montsho) entered the Tokyo National Stadium for one last leap effort to the Olympic medal.
It was supposed to be her first installment action on the Japanese athletics stage through the qualifying heats, but it proved to be a cameo appearance for her as fate would have it. Just after the sound of the gun, the loudest adulation back home in Botswana came to a standstill within the 200m distance as Montsho struggled, hoped, and gave in while others outpaced her on the 400m distance she has dominated for the longest time.
Like Usain Bolt in the world championships 2017, Nkape’s otherwise glittering career was shockingly put to a halt as she laid down in pain, head buried in her hands.
It was not what the bookmarkers had anticipated, but clearly, there was a huge upset. Until now, nobody knows what happened to her, but it is clear it was a race that ended in a cry of pain and a whimper.
Sadly, this was not a farewell party that Botswana and Montsho had in mind, especially that it was supposed to be the very last dance on the international stage. Her failure to finish that heat event would have normally cast a pall over the rest of the race. However, with age also a determining factor, patriots in Botswana felt frustrated. They instantly shed a tear—the one Olympic medal lacking on her trophy cabinet was again out of reach.
The incident will go down as one of her devastating races — memories of London 2012, Rio 2016 came flooding back, all confirming that Montsho. However, in all fairness, an all-conquering runner has a jinx when performing on the Olympic stage. In 2012, when age was on her side, she had legs to carry her; she realised very late that her counterparts did not beat her, but she was outdone by fear and anxiety to perform on the biggest stage of them all.
The psychological aspect is one area that has been ignored locally when athletes are in preparation. Sport and performance psychology focuses on helping athletes reach goals and cope with the anxiety that can impede performance. An athlete faces the monumental task of dealing with an adrenaline rush before they can think of crossing the line in a couple of seconds. As Baboloki Thebe once admitted, many of them fail to cope, which postures our athletes for failure.
In both the two Olympic Games that Montsho has participated in, stories of lack of psychological support never failed to crop out. The Tokyo 2020 games were just a continuation.
She is a known athlete who frequently suffers from stage fright, but when she qualified for this year’s games, there was great hope that she would bury her otherwise uncomfortable path.
At the age of 37, she had hoped to leave a legacy far beyond the finishing line. Before her most remarkable fall, it was always easy to argue for her case.
She has won numerous medals, collected at different taxing international stages. By why not an Olympic medal? As it stands, she has 11 medals dangling by her neck. The 12th one, perhaps the Olympic medal, refused to come, which would have marked her as immortal.
The curtain has closed over her illustrious running career. She came to Tokyo games with a season-best time of 52.67, but she left the scene without recording any. But that as maybe, Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) chief executive officer, Tuelo Serufho once said, ‘Motsho’s was suspension over doping allegations cannot overshadow what she has achieved in the past. And the past is eight gold and three silver medals.
Athletics is one of the sporting activities that for many years has been consistently performing extremely well in international competitions. One of the reasons is the availability of qualified and experienced coaches, who have been working tirelessly on the ground to ensure that they scout talent and develop more athletes.
For the first time after eons, football clubs plying their trade in the elite league are walking in the shadow of the undefined with nothing concrete agreed and on sight before the commencement of the football season.