Deji Ogeyingbo thinks Letsile Tebogo of Botswana is the next coming in the sprint world. His 100m gold made many smiles, remembering this Jamaican guy called Bolt.
Boy wonder Letsile Tebogo passes audition as the next ‘Bolt’, strikes Gold in Cali
What are the ingredients that make a great sprinter? Is it how fast you run, breaking records with reckless abandon or showboating in the final of a major championship? Add talking down your opponents to the menu and you would have got yourself a perfect specimen. Well, that’s what Usain Bolt captivated the sprinting world with for over a decade.
There surely can’t be an incarnate of the great Jamaican. The track and field gods drop them every once in a blue moon. Might we just be witnessing history repeat itself? Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo is ticking all of those boxes of what it takes to be a great sprinter.
And on his second appearance at the World Junior Championships, the 19-year-old obliterated his 100m World Junior record of 9.94s he set at the World Championships in July, lowering it to an astonishing 9.91s.
Before, the record was the manner of the win. Never has such a sprinting performance been seen before in the history of the World Juniors. The gusto, heart, effrontery, execution, and paparazzi all merged into one. Tebogo made it a cakewalk.
Going into the final, he was the overwhelming favorite after his run in the heats and semis. Puripol Boonson had reached uncharted territory in the semis, too. The Thailand sprinter lowered his country’s National U20 Record when he ran 10.09s.
So too was South Africa’s Richard Benjamin who played second fiddle to Tebogo in last year’s final in Nairobi and was a hair’s breadth behind him in this year’s semis. You couldn’t write off the Jamaican on the field. They would always be in the mix. Bouwahjgie Nkrumie was getting into his strides. He, too, could have caused an upset.
Their chances looked good. They, however, were coming up against a rathe-ripe, one who is well ahead of his peers. Tebogo’s numbers were out of this world. 9.94s, 9.96s, 10.00s. None of his competitors had run inside 10s in their careers.
The gun went off. It immediately felt a lot like the men’s 100m Olympic final when Usain Bolt, with his lanky frame, third from the right, took off and stole a match on his rivals, coming off his drive phase and cantering to victory inside the bird’s nest stadium.
Tebogo was in lane 4, and unlike Bolt then, his reaction time was the fastest of the field with 0.129s. For a sprinter that was the tallest in the lineup, that was exceptionally good.
Like Bolt, once he got out of his drive phase in the lead, there was always going to be one winner. Once he had that in the bag, he decided to play up the next script in the book on how to be a great sprinter. With Nkrumie two lanes to his right, the Botswanan began decelerating and pointed his finger to the Jamaican indicating he was number one.
At the celebration, “I saw the fans, and I wanted to remind them of what Usain Bolt did back in the day. He’s my idol, the person I look up to. If somebody took it as disrespect, I’m really sorry.” Tebogo said after his win.
Would Nkrumie be offended? The youngster did put up a little smile on his face in reaction to Letsile’s newfound trademark. He got beat by a sprinter miles ahead of him. The celebration was just his thing, and it is catching on with the fans already.
The sigil wasn’t new to Letsile. He slowed down in April when he clocked 9.96s in Gaborone. At the African Championships in June in Mauritius, it was South African’s Clarence Munyai who was at the receiving end over the 200m.
Along the way to this victory, there have been many sliding doors moments. Tebogo wanted to be a football player and only switched sports after not being able to make his high school team most of the time.
“Firstly, I used to run past people as a kid, then I went to play football. It wasn’t a good period for me because I was always getting benched, which made me frustrated. That prompted my decision to go back to athletics as I saw it made me able to put food on the table for my family”.
“For a while, I didn’t pay more attention to athletics until about 2018 when I realized I could go professional with it.”
Tebogo took inspiration from the great Isaac Makwala, who brought smiles to the faces of millions of Botswanans. And in the space of four years, he has now broken won Gold twice as a junior, become the African Champion over the 200m, compete in his first Diamond League, and beat the second fastest man in history, Yohan Blake, in the semis of the World Championships in Oregon.
His path might not draw exact similitude to Bolt, but there is no denying Tebogo has read the manuscript of how to become a great sprinter from a man who transcended Track and Field. With his performance in Cali, he has completed the first page.
What a story. What a performance. And what a human being too.