On a fine day in 2012, a fresh-faced teenager from Botswana left the world awestruck when he won silver in the 800m race at the London Olympics, the country’s first-ever podium finish at the biggest global sporting showpiece.
The then 18-year old lad sent spasms of elation to his country when he finished second behind Kenyan, David Rudisha, in the blistering 800m final, recording a time of 1:41.73 seconds. This was the third fastest time in history of the 800m race. The most interesting aspect about the time is that it was recorded by a teenager who was largely unknown to the rest of the world when he arrived in London and was expected to take part merely to gain some competition experience.
Nigel Zorro Amos’s medal was widely celebrated in Botswana because after three decades of being at the Olympic Games with nothing to show for it, the country’s flag was unfurled before the world and its national anthem heard.
Now aged 27 years, the Marobela-born athlete is expected to repeat the same feat at the Olympic Games that begin today (July 23) in Tokyo, Japan. He will be taking part in his usual two-lap race and begin his hunt for his second Olympics medal on Saturday July 31.
“Amos is up to something big this year,” said Dr Tshephang Tshube, who is a lecturer in sports and science at the University of Botswana, in an interview. “He is back with a bang! This is demonstrated by his level of maturity on and off the track. I am talking about his choice of races, level of confidence, and most profoundly his performance this year. This gives him a good mental state and clears psychological distractions that put him in the news for the wrong reasons for about two years.”
Dr Tshube noted that the fact that Amos has reduced his participation in Diamond League races to focus on the Tokyo 2020 gives him a greater chance of securing his second Olympics medal. “The benefits of fewer Diamond League races are beginning to show,” Dr Tshube said. “He ran 1:42.91 seconds, a world lead, to win the Monaco Diamond League. The 2016 Olympic Games were a big mistake for him. He was not prepared, and injuries had a significant impact in his preparation. I believe he is now in a good space to bring Botswana’s second Olympic medal home.”
But Amos, despite his experience, has over the years been struggling to win competitions that have many rounds. Why is it so? Tshube answered: “The Olympic are different from Diamond League races. The Olympic Games require significant physical and mental fitness to progress from heats and semi-finals to finals. A lot of athletes struggle to maintain a consistent physical and mental focus through to the end. Following Amos’s 2012 medal, he struggled to focus on relevant cues and he paid a big price for it. I believe his new base in Oregon, USA has accorded him unique experts to support him though these stages.”
Retired athlete Daniel Lagamang also believes that Amos has a great chance of bagging his second Olympic medal in Tokyo. “This time around, he is approaching the Olympics as a completely different athlete,” he said in an interview. “In 2012, he trained in Pretoria for about six months and only did four races before the London Olympics. He did two races in Pretoria and one in Europe. His last competition was the Barcelona World Junior Championships. An important factor is that in 2012 he was injury free, hence Amos was so exceptional.”
But why did Amos fail to win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics? “He had a lot of races before the 2016 Olympics as he competed in the Diamond League for a week,” Lagamang noted. “In the result, he was fatigued and failed to deliver. But this time around, his approach is completely different. His coach focused on training rather than on races. Amos has raced only twice this year. This was in Potchefstroom, South Africa and in the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco where Amos recorded a world leading time in the 800m. This gives him a huge chance of doing well in Tokyo. He is definitely getting one of the medals; he just needs to keep a cool head.”
What does Amos have to do to win a medal if he reaches the 800m final in Tokyo? “He needs to run about 49 seconds in the first lap to make other guys uncomfortable,” Lagamang answers. “From there about 1:14 seconds over 600m, then finish them off over the last 200m because he has a good sprint. Over the years, Amos was going too slowly over the first 400m, making him uncomfortable in the last lap. He must not think about reserving energy this time. He must just go for the kill, which is what he did in 2012.”
According to Lagamang, the 800m and semi-finals should be fairly easy for Amos because most of the athletes who have qualified have personal bests of 1:43 seconds and 1:44 seconds.