Thebe Takes The Challenge To Van Niekerk & Co

Only time will tell if Baboloki Thebe can emulate his fleet-footed compatriot Isaac Makwala and become the world’s fastest 400m athlete. He aims to do that and has gone to Abidjan where his Ivorian coach Anthony Koffi - who counts the supremacy of the world’s best woman in the 100m race Marie-Josee Ta Lou among his achievements - is ensuring that he does when the time comes

Thebe Takes The Challenge To Van Niekerk & Co
Baboloki Thebe; (Pic:MONIRUL BHUIYAN/PRESS PHOTO)

Botswana’s 400m sensation Baboloki Thebe has relocated to the Ivory Coast to further his training as in preparation of defending his African 400m title for the third time in a row and obtaining the qualifying standard for the Olympics.

Thebe, who holds a personal best of 44.02 seconds in the 400m race that makes him Botswana’s second-fastest athlete ever for the distance behind Isaac Makwala’s 43.72 seconds, has been enduring a tough spell of his career over the last few months that is blamed on endless injuries and off-track issues.

The last time Thebe sped to a convincing time in the 400m was when he clocked 45.09 seconds during an athletics meet in Praha, Czech Republic. He then suffered an injury that saw him miss the 2019 Africa Games in Morocco and 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar. In 2020, Thebe had limited competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic during a course of time of off-track issues that included a car crash.

But in 2021, the 24-year old athlete has come back focused and revamped as he aims to return to his days of supremacy and make the nation proud again. To ensure that he achieves this, Thebe relocated to Abidjan, Ivory Coast late last month. “It’s no secret that things have not been going well for me and I do not want to dwell much on what happened in the past,” Thebe told The Business Weekly Sport from Abidjan, the Ivorian capital city that hugs the southern Atlantic coast of the West African country. “I aim to train very hard because I want to win the African 400m title for the third time in a row and attain the qualification standard of 44.90 seconds for the 400m race at the Tokyo Olympics.”

The Ramonaka-born athlete won the African 400m title for the first time in 2016 with a time of 44.69 seconds during the Championships that were held in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban, defeating his compatriot Makwala in the process. Thebe would go on to win the African 400m title for the second time during the 2018 African Championships in Asaba, Nigeria where he won the one-lap race with a time of 44.81 seconds.

Thebe now wants to win at third bite at the cherry at the African Athletic Senior Championships which will be held in Oran, Algeria from 1 to 5 June 2020. That, however, could prove elusive, considering that his rival, the 400m world and Olympic record holder (43.03 seconds) Wayde Van Niekerk, may be present in Oran. South Africa’s Van Niekerk missed past African Championships for unknown reasons but chances are high that he will be at this year’s edition because international competitions are few and far between this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Van Niekerk is not the only threat to Thebe’s ambitions, another being his compatriot Leungo Scotch who has been Botswana’s 400m star whenever Thebe and Makwala were absent.

Nevertheless, Thebe’s gaze is fixed on the stars, hence he has made the Ivory Coast his training base hence he says he will return to Botswana only during the offseason or when required to by the national team. He is currently under the tutelage of Anthony Koffi who also coaches one of the world’s fastest women in the 100m, Marie-Josée Ta Lou who won two silver medals (the100m and the 200m) during the 2017 World Championships in London. Thebe’s coach Koffi has pronounced himself happy to work with his Ramonaka-born lad whom he describes as a naturally talented athlete. “I have set him goals,” Koffi said in an exclusive interview with The Business Weekly Sport. “Achieving them will depend on how he trains and how badly he wants to achieve them.”

In his expert assessment, Thebe will be ready for competition in the next three to four weeks. “He will be competing here in the Ivory Coast,” he said. “Then after the African Championships (in June), we will move to Europe for training and high intensity competitions.”

Thebe is not the first Motswana athlete to opt for a different country as his training base. Nigel Amos relocated to Oregon, USA in 2017 in a move that helped him rekindle his form. Amantle Montsho trained in Dakar, Senegal between 2006 and 2014 and went on to win several titles that include the IAAF World 400m Championship, IAAF Diamond League honors and several African 400m titles.

Thebe burst on the athletics scene during the 2014 African Youth Games that were held in Gaborone, Botswana, winning a brace of medals – a bronze in the 100m and a gold in the 200m with a national youth record of 20.85. Things would only get better for the trailblazing novice who went on to attain qualifying marks for the 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene and the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. His standout performance that brought him national recognition was a silver medal in the 200m in Nanjing in 21.20 seconds.

Thebe has several honours to his name which include the two African Championship titles and the Commonwealth Games 400m silver medal that he won in 2018. He is also an influential member of the men’s 4x400m in which he has helped the team to win the Commonwealth Games and African Championships titles over the years. Will Thebe follow in the footsteps of Makwala and become the world’s greatest 400m athlete? Only time will tell.