Amantle Montsho hopes that her historic gold medal in the 400m at the 13th edition of the IAAF World Championships last night - the first ever by an athlete from Botswana - will do more than just adorn her home in Dakar, Senegal, where she trains at the IAAF Dakar High Performance Training Centre. Montsho, who was born in Mabudutsa, hopes that her medal will inspire young athletes in her small, land-locked nation of two million people in southern Africa.
"I think from here, starting from here, I'll be an example for the young athletes in Botswana," Montsho said last night. "I think they will work hard from me winning the gold medal here."
Montsho, 28, has enjoyed a steady progression in her career since taking up athletics as a girl. Like so many athletes before her, she needed to leave home to really progress to world-class status.
"I start at this since I was at grammar school, then I went to high school still in athletics," she explained. "Because we didn't have good coaches in Botswana, I moved to the training center in Dakar. Since I have been there I've been improving my condition every year until now."
Indeed. Montsho set national records in the 400m for five straight years starting in 2005. She came into the meet here with a 49.89 career best to her credit, but had to step up her game to beat America's Allyson Felix in a thrilling stretch run. She clocked 49.56 which was not only a new Botswanan best but a mark which came within striking distance of Falilat Ogunkoya's African record of 49.10, a time Montsho thinks she can beat.
"Yes, I want to make it because it's not that far," Montsho said of Ogunkoya's record. "So, I think if I work hard the way I am used to I can make it."
Montsho had her first big career breakthrough in 2003. She won the national 400m title in a then personal best of 55.03. She competed in her first continental event later that year, the All Africa Games in Abuja, where she finished fourth in her heat. Montsho gained selection for the IAAF Centre in Dakar after being spotted by the sprint coach there, Anthony Koffi, who was on a recruiting tour on behalf of IAAF Member Services Director, Elio Locatelli. A year later she was in the center, and her career began to take off. She won the silver medal at the African Championships in 2006, and won the All Africa Games in 2007. She would win the African Championships in 2008, and managed to make the Olympic final in Beijing where she finished eight.
At the last World Championships in Berlin in 2009, Montsho finished eighth. But, when she finished fourth at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha last year, she could just taste the possibility of a World Championships medal.
"Ever since I've been fourth I've been trying to be a great athlete, tried to improve each and every year, and to learn something from all of my races," she said. "And this year, I've been working hard."
Even though she no longer lives in Botswana, Montsho said she feels the support and warmth of the nation's 2 million people, especially now.
"I'm sure that everybody is more happy than me at home because it is the fist medal ever in Botswana in the history," she posited. "Since I start my competition in Daegu, everybody was behind me back home, send me some letters, some comments, and that makes me to be more strong."
Interestingly, Montsho said that she felt that all of Africa was supporting her, not just Botswanans. She thanked them last night.
"I'd like to thank all African people for supporting me," she said. She added: "I would like to thank you all for supporting me, and to make me to be strong."
From here, Montsho said she would begin to focus on her preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She emphasized that she was not resting on her laurels.
"What I have to do from here, I have to prepare for the Olympics very well because I know that every year there are some new athletes coming." she said. "So, I have to put that in my mind and go back and train hard."
David Monti for the IAAF