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Amantle Montsho Wins Botswana's First Ever 400M Medal at 2011 World Championships

Even as she stood in Lane 4 in the finals after recording the best time in the semifinals, it seemed somehow natural that attention was not focusing on 28-year-old Amantle Montsho at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Athletics. Hailing from the little-known South African country of Botswana, with a population of just over 1.8 million, Montsho came in last in the 400m finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2009 World Championships in Athletics. Her status as the first Tswana Olympian, when she competed at the 2004 Athens games, was a fact recognized only in her home country. And the fact that she rose to become the 400m champion at the 2008 and 2010 African Championships in Athletics after suffering a 2005 house fire that consumed “everything but the clothes I was wearing” was afforded little attention, regarded as the kind of thing that happens to athletes in Africa, with its poor sporting environment.

All eyes were on Lane 3, occupied by 26-year-old U.S. athlete Allyson Felix. With expectations that Felix, a three-time World Championships women’s 200m champion, might set a record with this event by becoming the first female athlete to sweep the 200m and 400m events, Montsho did not figure into the equation.

The way Montsho chose to announce her presence to an international audience was to dash into first place with 100 meters to go in the women’s 400m finals at the World Championships in Athletics on Monday. Felix remained in hot pursuit, but failed to pass Montsho, who crossed the finish line ahead of her by a margin of 0.03 seconds.

With a time of 49.56 seconds, Montsho set a new record for her home country. The medal was Botswana’s first at the World Championships, as well as the event’s biggest surprise from an unknown. The head of the Botswana delegation said, “Our country has diamond mines, and now it has a gold medal, too.”

Montsho began racing 100m and 200m distances in second grade. Unable to secure the services of a professional track and field coach by the age of 22, she made rapid progress after beginning systematic training at a track and field training center in the Senegalese capital of Dakar in 2006.

Having gone from last place in the finals two years before to a gold medal performance this year, Montsho said she was happy to be able to offer hope to her country. Ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, Botswana has a reported average life expectancy of around 40 years.

Montsho said that with children in Botswana having witnessed her victory, she feels the need to work even harder toward next year’s Olympic games.

Following her victory, Montsho was draped with the flag of Botswana. Showing black and white stripes on a sky blue background, the flag is said to symbolize the zebra, the national animal. This was the image called to mind at the sight of Montsho racing with her mouth closed tightly on the final straight-line track into first place.

Tags:Amantle Montsho Wins Botswana's First Ever 400M Medal at 2011 World Championships
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