Letsile Tebogo is redefining what talent is in Athletics.

 

Letsile Tebogo is 20 years old. He shouldn’t be running 44.29 in only his 4th 400m race. That’s absurd, at the very least, considering he is primarily a 100m/200m runner. But who are we to put a limit on what could potentially be a once-in-a-generation talent in athletics?

Letsile, the schoolboy as he’s fondly called in Botswana, ran his second race of the season at the ASA Athletics Grand Prix in South Africa. Like it’s becoming a norm, the world always stands still whenever the result pops up. This time, he shaved off seconds from his previous personal best time of 44.75.

Letsile Tebogo, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Afterward, Tebogo took to social media to express his perspective on why he ran the 400m, stating, “Great things never come from comfort zones,” in a post on X platform. He revealed that his decision to run the race was driven by a desire to challenge himself and test his speed. Tebogo eagerly anticipates competing in the Diamond League meets as he believes they will provide the ideal platform to bolster his confidence and readiness for the upcoming Paris Olympics.

That’s the scary part. Just over a month ago, Tebogo made history at the Simbine Curro Classic Shoot-Out by setting a new world record in the 300m. Crossing the finish line in an astonishing 30.69s, he shattered the previous record held by the 2016 Olympic champion, Wayde van Niekerk, by an impressive margin of 0.12s. He has now gone quicker than Michael Johnson and Usain Bolt over the distance. His versatility stands him out, and that can be a good thing if managed well.

Letsile Tebogo, 2022 African Champs, photo by Dei Ogeyingbo

Undoubtedly, he is in line to become only the third man to run a sub-10, sub-20, and sub-44 in the men’s 400m history. But Paris beckons, and his rivals should be scared. Back when Tebogo burst into the limelight as an 18-year-old at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi in 2021,

Ultimately, it will fall to Tebogo to show us his full potential.

He is an outrageously good talent. We are only beginning to get a feel for his potential at this level, and he will develop further as he matures physically. He will grow parts of his running style as he looks to evolve in this ever-changing sport. The hype machine hasn’t been left out of talking about his talent.

According to 2004 Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin, he will change the 200-meter world this season. “Looking at what he looks like now, he looks a little bigger and slightly stronger. That’s what Noah did. He matured, and now he can hold and sustain his runs. Tebogo is going through the same situation right now. Tebogo will turn the 200-meter world upside down because now you have someone maturing into his events.,” Gatlin said.

Letsile Tebogo, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Michael Johnson also added to the hype: “There’s always talk of who’s the next great one in track. The hype and promise usually fizzle. But Letsile Tebogo is one of the rare ones I might bet on!”

An older Tebogo, with a more focused running style, will tear up his rivals the way Usain Bolt did at the Olympics and World Championships. I have written about how this could be his watershed year, similar to Bolt’s 2008 season when he turned up the style and won triple Gold at the Beijing Olympics. It feels like it’s written in the stars.

Letsile Tebogo, 2022 African Champs, photo by Dei Ogeyingbo

Every once in a while, the southern part of Africa throws us a gem. From Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks to South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, very few would have thought Botswana would be the hotbed of the next athletics superstar. It might seem like God just likes to play dice with the world.

This is the joy of watching Tebogo, a sprinter full of audacious and daring moments on the track as he uses them to redefine the boundaries of talent. Tebogo doesn’t just run to win a race; he glides through them as if he knows there are no boundaries and limitations to where his body can take him.

Letsile Tebogo, 100m champion, WA U20, photo by Marta Gorczynska for World Athletics

Despite his age, Tebogo possesses a remarkable maturity, understanding the significance of pivotal moments in a race. He knows precisely when to make a move, yet he also appreciates the power of stillness, allowing his running to convey his prowess. In athletics, Tebogo stands out as a rare gem—a runner who approaches his craft with surgical precision rather than blunt force, leaving an indelible mark on the sport.

He is a boy who runs with the calmness of a 28-year-old veteran and seemingly has the emotional intelligence of a man older still than that. He is “The Next Big Thing” emerging from Africa, a continent that prides itself on nurturing and developing future big things.

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