“It is sad note to announce my retirement from athletics for obvious reasons: Age has caught up and only God knows how much my heart raced with excitement every time I have represented Botswana and Africa at large,” these are the words of Botswana’s decorated athlete Amantle Montsho when she announced her retirement form her athletics career that spans more than 15 years.
“It is the first-ever official retirement of an athlete from my country and I truly deserve it,” Montsho continued. “I was the first athlete to win a gold medal at the World Athletics Championships for my country. We need to show the upcoming generation that it is possible. I speak mostly to women in sports.”
Montsho has been the best athlete that Botswana has ever had. This is the athlete who clinched a dramatic victory over Allyson Felix in Daegu, South Korea to attain Botswana’s first-ever gold medal at the IAAF World Championships on 29 August 2011. She did this after she held onto an early lead as Felix tried to chase her down. Montsho finished first, winning a gold in the women’s 400m final with a time of 49.56 seconds. Her unprecedented performance for any Motswana athlete brought joy to the nation.
Her immense success over the years makes this “Golden Queen of the Running Tracks” an icon of African women sprints. “She has served her part for African sprints,” says renowned sports journalist Evelyn Watta of Kenya who works for Madrid-based Olympic Channel in Spain.
“It’s time for her to move into the next thing. I hope she will give back to athletics in Botswana and Africa at large. I think she is an icon for African women sprints, winning a World Championships medal is something huge and we must remember that she did so during the time that West Africans were out of the scene. Only Montsho was shining bright for Africa.”
Watta, who was the 2014 CNN MultiChoice Africa Journalist of the Year in Sports, holds that when the history of African sprints are written, Montsho’s name will be at the top. She describes the Maun-born athlete as a polite, honest and ambitious athlete.
Former national team athlete and now an academic in the Department of Sports and Science at the University of Botswana, Dr. Tshephang Tshube, has this to say about Montsho: “She has done so much for this country. She has an amazing athletics career that we should celebrate. We are talking about the first person ever to bring a gold medal home from the Senior World Athletics Championships. I really admire her tenacity, hard work and determination to have done this much for Botswana. We must honour Montsho in the best way possible.”
But what was it like being Montsho’s teammate? We put this question to Oarabile Babolayi-Monekane who had the honour of being Montsho’s teammate for the first time at the Nairobi 2010 African Championships “She has helped us (women athletes) to have the confidence that we can also make it,” she answered. “Through her excellent performance Amantle motivated us,
Babolayi-Monekane says Montsho has always been there to support and encourage other athletes. “She never treated herself like a star,” she notes. “As a matter fact, one couldn’t tell she had accomplished a lot if one didn’t know. One thing that people do not know about Amantle is that she is honest to a fault. She would always speak up if she saw that we were doing things that could harm our performance.”
Says athletics national team coach, Justice Dipeba about Montsho: “I worked on one-on-one with her for a short period of time but I could tell that she was a hard worker. Montsho spent most her best career training at a high performance centre in Dakar, Senegal where I was lucky visit her once. She was preparing for the 2012 Olympics at the time and it was amazing to watch her going through her workouts. She was in top shape.”
Although his time with the icon was relatively brief, Dipeba worked with Montsho during several international meets, World Championships and the Commonwealth Games among them. “You could see that her discipline was at another level in terms of her training, eating and sleeping patterns,” he points out. “She was a phenomenal athlete. I wish our young athletes could borrow a page or two from her book.”
Montsho has been a headache to many athletes around the world as evidenced by her outstanding track record. This is the lanky athlete who started off as a 200m sprinter and ultimately switched to 400m to accommodate her long strides. Her first major competition with the national team was in 2003 when she represented Botswana at the Abuja All-Africa Games. She was 20-years old at the time. Due to early career promising performances, Montsho was enrolled with the Olympic Solidarity Programme which saw her relocating to the West African country of Senegal for training.
She made her maiden Olympic appearance in 2004 as a wild card entrant. Her major international competition was the World Championships in 2005 in which she failed to impress. Montsho obtained her first medal, a silver, at the 2006 African Championships in Bambous, Mauritius in the 200m race with a time of 52.68.
A year later, the Golden Queen of the Running Tracks won a gold medal in the women’s 400m at the All-Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria before making her second appearance in the Olympics at the 2008 Beijing Games. She finished as a finalist in the women’s 400m in and was recognised as Botswana Sportsperson of the Year in 2008. She was also a finalist during the 2009 World Championships that were held in Berlin, Germany.
Montsho established herself as a brand to reckon with in the world of athletics in 2010 when she became the women’s African, Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games 400m champion. A year later, she defeated the on-form Felix to the 2011 IAAF World Championships women 400m gold medal to ensure that Botswana’s national anthem was sung at the podium for the first time. However, she failed to carry her form to the 2012 London Olympics after finishing fourth in the 400m final with a time of 49.75.
She settled for a silver medal in the women’s 400m during the 2013 World Championships before finishing fourth at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games where she was suspended for two years after she tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a prohibited stimulant. Montsho made a return in 2016 and represented Botswana a year later at the 2017 World Championships in London where she failed to impress in her individual race but was a finalist with the 4x400m relay team.
She would dazzle many at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia when – aged 34 – she won a gold medal in the women’s 400m. She was also influential in ensuring that the women’s 4x400m relay team won a bronze at the Games. She also made a part of the 4x400m relay team that settled for a silver medal during the 2019 All-Africa Games in Rabat, Morcco.
Montsho was the oldest member of Team Botswana at the Tokyo Olympics last year after qualifying through her individual 400m race. This is the stellar record of Amantle Montsho, the Icon of African Women Sprints who just announced her retirement from active athletics.