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“Africans Can be Sprinters Too": The Rise of Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo

Tebogo: Representing Botswana is 'a great honor'
Botswana speedster Letsile Tebogo discusses what it means to him to represent his home country. The 20-year old is set to take on World 200m champion, USA's Noah Lyles, at the upcoming Monaco Diamond League on July 12.

Letsile Tebogo (let-SEE-lay teh-BOE-go) is a name you’ll want to remember this summer. If you haven’t heard it yet get ready to hear it often and take a moment to learn the pronunciation.

At the 2023 World Championships, Tebogo made history as the first African man to win a world championship medal in the 100m, finishing second in the event. He also took home the world 200m bronze. But the two-time world medalist is not stopping there.

Tebogo has continued to showcase his versatility in 2024. In February, Tebogo shattered records with an impressive 30.69 in the non-Olympic 300m distance. Then, at the 2024 World Relays in May, he powered Botswana to Paris qualification, delivering sub-44 splits in both the heats and final of the 4x400m relays.

The 21-year-old is the first Botswanan man to win a world medal in any event. In the conversation below, Tebogo discusses his determination to bring home more glory to a nation that boasts only two Olympic medals to its name.

*This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. The interview took place in March before the Botswana Athletics Association announced the passing of Tebogo’s mother Seratiwa on May 20th.

I know that football (soccer) was your first love and Athletics was just a hobby for you. How did you get your start in track and field and when and why did you decide to make that your focus?

Letsile Tebogo: I started to make it my focus when I qualified for my first championships in Kenya. That’s when I sat down and took into consideration what I really wanted in life. Athletics is the only sport that I have traveled abroad with. In football, I [competed] in local tournaments but I had never gone outside the country for it. 2019 was when I decided to take the [athletics] route.

Was there anyone in your circle—friends, teachers, family, or coaches—that encouraged you to pursue athletics?

Tebogo: Yeah, there were. But me being me, I just thought that they wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do because like you said, athletics was my hobby and my real love was football.

For people who have never been there, can you paint the picture of what life was like growing up in Kanye, Botswana?

Tebogo: It was quite decent. We didn’t have the best infrastructure but we used everything to our advantage while playing football. I stayed there up [until] grade seven and then that’s when I moved to the capital city, and then everything started moving smoothly for us.

What are some values and traditions from your culture that have helped you become the person you are today?

Tebogo: Respect and dedication to what you do. [It’s important] to show people how the culture is. Don’t throw away the culture, and then adopt the city life. Keep on pushing the culture so that people can [see] what you’re really made of.

Do you have any siblings? What do they think of your success so far?

Tebogo: Yes, I have a little sister. She grew up watching me and [understands] the struggles that we went through. Now the teachers are trying to force her to do what I’m doing now, but that’s not her career path. She doesn’t want to do it.

Can you talk about some of the struggles that you went through?

Tebogo: I used to train without shoes. Shoes were more expensive and we couldn’t afford that because we lived with our extended family so it was difficult for us to get things. [If you did], it would be as if you were the favored child, so things had to be equal. So I used to train without shoes in both football and athletics. I would wear a pair of old pants that one of my uncles used to wear back when he was in school. It was just a generational thing.

When did you get your first pair of new shoes for athletics?

Tebogo: I think I got them after I broke the national record in 2020 when Rosa Associati (the agency that represents Tebogo) came through. They told me ‘You’ve got a great talent, take this, and we’ll keep on monitoring [your progress] and see how things are.’

Where does your nickname “schoolboy” come from?

Tebogo: I was the youngest when we went for the World Relays in Poland. I was the only person who was still in school there. The rest were seniors so that’s how the nickname came about.


Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo competes in the men’s 200m heats during the World Athletics Championships at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest on August 23, 2023. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

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Wow that’s so funny that it stuck. Switching gears - I want to talk about your success and what representing Botswana means to you. At just 20 years old you’ve made a name not only for yourself but for your country. What does having the opportunity to represent Botswana mean to you?

Tebogo: It means a lot to me because it’s everybody’s dream to represent the country. It is always a great honor being on that track and knowing that you are carrying a whole nation behind your back—they’re cheering for you! It’s really, really amazing for me to be there.

You’ve said one of the changes you’ve seen is that people are now more invested and interested in coming to see what Africans can really do as sprinters. What does it mean to you knowing that you’ve played a direct part in putting Botswana on the map in track and field?

Tebogo: I’ve not only put Botswana on the map… until we stepped up Africans were known for the long distance, marathon, and quarter mile. I just wanted to change that role and make sure that [people know] Africans can be sprinters too.

Letsile Tebogo 400m Botswana.png

Letsile’s Instagram

In what ways have you been supported by the community in Botswana?

Tebogo: The community backs me up with [the things] I need. If I need transportation money, they will [give] if I ask. But I don’t like to ask because I just feel like I’ll be a burden to people. I’d rather struggle on my own and then find the best [solution]. I’m grateful for my coach [Kebonyemodisa Mosimanyane] because he knows all [my] struggles and if I need something he’s my right-hand man. That’s the person I’ll go to.

You’ve said that as part of your pre-race and warm-up routine, you listen to your traditional songs from Botswana so that you can feel that you’re home. Tell me more about that. How does that help you?

Tebogo: I listen to [artists] who speak the same language as me. [Some of them] have the same story to tell and we are from the same home village so I can relate.

How does listening to people who have been through that same struggle and are from the same place that you’re from when you’re in a different city like Paris or somewhere in Europe, help you before a race?

Tebogo: It helps me calm down. I tell myself ‘Everything is going to be alright and that once you are done with the level of adrenaline will drop and then you’re back to your normal self.’

Take me back to the 2023 World Championships. What do you remember most from your experience?

Tebogo: All I remember is the first heat of the 100m. [My] block wasn’t the [best] block that [I] could have done, it only clicked in the final block. That’s the most memorable thing that I’m going to always carry because I don’t think that [people expected] me to even get a medal.

Day 2 - World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 20: Noah Lyles of Team United States, Zharnel Hughes of Team Great Britain, and Letsile Tebogo of Team Botswana cross the finish line of the Men’s 100m Final during day two of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 at National Athletics Centre on August 20, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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World Athletics Championships 2023 - Day 2

Budapest , Hungary - 20 August 2023; Letsile Tebogo of Botswana celebrates winning silver in men’s 100m final during day two of the World Athletics Championships at National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sportsfile via Getty Images

Day 2 - World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 20: Silver medalist Letsile Tebogo of Team Botswana reacts after competing in the Men’s 100m Final during day two of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 at National Athletics Centre on August 20, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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You became the first African man to win a world medal in the 100m. How special was that moment for you and what do you remember thinking?

Tebogo: For me, I’ve always wanted either Akani [Simbine] or Ferdinand Omanyala to do it, because I’m a youngster so I could do it later on but they have been in the game for so long. I wanted them [to earn a world medal] first and then me later. But by the grace of God, I came first. In the moment, I didn’t know but it was so amazing to see me get that medal and bring it back home to Africa.

Day 3 - World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 21: (L-R) Silver medalist Letsile Tebogo of Team Botswana, Gold medalist Noah Lyles of Team United States, and Bronze medalist Zharnel Hughes of Team Great Britain pose for a photo during the medal ceremony for the Men’s 100m Final during day three of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 at National Athletics Centre on August 21, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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You talk about your relationship with Ferdinand and Akani, how did they react to your success? What did they say to you after you won?

Tebogo: They [sent] me congratulations messages and [encouraged] me to keep focusing the way that I am [assuring me] that everything’s going to fall into place.


Botswana sprinter Letsile Tebogo (L) and Kenyan sprinter and 100m Africa record holder Ferdinand Omanyala (R), widely regarded as the two fastest men in Africa, react after a press conference ahead of the fifth edition of the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour at the Eka Hotel in Nairobi, on April 18, 2024. (Photo by LUIS TATO / AFP) (Photo by LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images)

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How have they motivated you during your journey?

Tebogo: I’d say they’ve always been by my side. We’ve always chatted at Diamond Leagues. They [shared their first Diamond League experiences with me] just so I could get the full picture of what I’m getting myself into.

You also won the world bronze in the 200m, how special was that experience for you?

Tebogo: It really shows that Africa has got [a lot] of potential to medal in any event that they [choose]. When you look at the first rounds of the 100m, they were going smoothly, and then I got a small tear in the 200m, I think it was the semifinal. I was just running the final so that I could finish the race and see how my body was going to [react] and whether or not there was going to be fatigue or not. But I managed to finish and get that bronze medal. We were all speechless—the whole team, coach, myself, everyone was speechless. Because with that grade-one tear, the doctor didn’t think I would even finish the race.

Day 7 - World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 25: Letsile Tebogo of Botswana following the men’s 200m final during day seven of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 at National Athletics Centre on August 25, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Sam Mellish/Getty Images)

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A few months ago you said you didn’t have goals for the Olympics because you haven’t thought about what will happen. It’s officially outdoor season, do you have any goals now?

Tebogo: I think making it into the final as usual, will be the best goal but we’ll see how the atmosphere is, how the lineup is, and then maybe [the goal] will change from just making it to the final to getting a medal. But in the 200m, I could say that we are going to [earn] a medal there.

Botswana has won medals in just 2 events in Olympic history. Both of them are in athletics. What does it mean to run for Botswana given it’s a country that hasn’t had a ton of Olympic success?

Tebogo: It really motivates me and brings joy to me knowing that athletics is the sport that could bring medals back to the country. But I want it to be more equal. I want more sports to bring medals to the country so we could all be celebrating. Because once I bring the medal back home others are going to be criticized for not doing their job. I just want us to be united and bring back as many models as possible.

How often do you dream about making history as an African Olympic champion in the 100m and or the 200m?

Tebogo: I’d say every race that I go into during outdoor season. Every step that I’m making on the track, I [treat it as if] it’s going to be a historic race because you never know how long your career is going to be.

Given your recent success, is the 400m calling your name? Is that an event that you want to add to your schedule?

Tebogo: The 400m is something I’m doing just to see how the body’s going to be after the first 200m and the last 200m because that’s what we are preparing for, for the Olympics. But I’m definitely going to do either the 4x400m or the mixed 4x400m relay, depending on how my schedule is at the Olympics.

Why do you love the 400m when so many sprinters run from it?

Tebogo: For me, that’s what I wanted to change. I wanted to show the sprinters that anything’s possible. You can do [anything] from the 100m up to the 400m and be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. I think most of the time, the sprinters just focus on the sprinting part and then they have a short endurance that won’t last for the three rounds of the 100m or 200m.

What’s your favorite event?

Tebogo: I’m going to go with the 200m because it’s less technical than the 100m. If you make one mistake in the 100m then it’s game over for you.

How are you juggling training for the 100m and 200m? In the past, you’ve talked about trying to take a more conservative approach just because of how taxing it is on your body so how are you adjusting?

Tebogo: I’m doing mostly the 200m program because it’s the one that’s going to lay the foundation of the 100m. As the season progresses, that’s where we’ll jump off to the 100m program.

You’ve said that great things never come from comfort zones. In what ways have you gotten out of your comfort zone in the lead-up to this season?

Tebogo: It’s me leaving my family back home and staying in a place where I don’t know anybody. You just have to adapt to a new environment and get to know how their culture is. That is me stepping out of my comfort zone. If I were in Botswana I wouldn’t be as focused as I am [on the road] because I have a lot of friends where I grew up and that can be distracting. But I will see them when I visit home.

The Olympic Games have never been held in Africa. Do you think that’s something that we’ll see in the future?

Tebogo: I think it’s something that we’ll see. When? I don’t know but that’s something that we are going to change. It will take Africans coming together and being united as one, on one continent. If we are [divided] then people are going to say that we cannot host an Olympics.

As someone who’s had such a dynamic hand in changing the face of sprinting—of African sprinting like we talked about earlier—How much would it mean to you to see an Olympic Games hosted on your home continent?

Tebogo: It would really mean a lot to the African continent because most of the time it’s us traveling to Europe or to America to compete in those games. We have never had that chance to see Americans and [people from] European countries come to the African continent.

What are some other resources and needs that would make African athletes in track and field more successful?

Tebogo: I think having a few indoor tracks in Africa and then making one of the best tracks in one of the countries so that we can have [a central] place to meet.

We’ve talked about Ferdinand and Akani earlier, are there any other African athletes past or present that you look up to or have had a great relationship with?

Tebogo: I think it’s safe to say I’ve got a great relationship with all the [athletes] in Africa. There are no hard feelings. We just wish each other a great season and send congratulations messages.


(From L to R) Botswana sprinter Letsile Tebogo, Kenyan athlete and 800m World Champion Mary Moraa, Kenyan sprinter and 100m Africa record holder Ferdinand Omanyala, Namibian sprinter Christine Mboma and American hammer thrower Janee Kassanavoid pose for a photo in front of members of the media during a press conference ahead of the fifth edition of the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour at the Eka Hotel in Nairobi, on April 18, 2024. (Photo by LUIS TATO / AFP) (Photo by LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

I know Usain Bolt is someone that you’ve looked up to in your career. Since his retirement, it seems like track and field is trying to find the next “King of the Men’s 100m”, an event that has so much depth. What are your thoughts on the competition?

Tebogo: The 100m is so technical and you really have to do everything correctly for you to be [crowned] the new king of the 100m. It would be really great to see Africans taking it.


Letsile Tebogo of Botswana (L) and Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya compete in the Men’s 100m event during the IAAF Diamond League “Herculis” athletics meeting at the Louis II Stadium in Monaco, on July 21, 2023. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP) (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

There are so many different personalities in this sport, especially among the sprinters. You have some who are really outgoing, confident, and vocal on social media. Others are quiet and more reserved. How would you describe yours? Where do you fit in, in that mix?

Tebogo: I’d say I’m a reserved person because I don’t talk much. But I do more. I don’t believe in talking too much if you can’t back up your words. If you talk and can back up words that’s great, but I prefer being reserved.

When focusing on personal growth, especially in track and field, I understand the importance of running your own race. However, after this past season, observing Noah Lyles quickly becoming one of the prominent figures in World Athletics, I have to ask, how often do you think about him, especially since he competes in both of your events?

Tebogo: He’s really a great, great guy. He only talks when necessary, he doesn’t talk all the time. But during the warm-ups, press conferences, and medal ceremonies we’ve gotten to share little moments. I don’t really think of him much, because there are eight competitors in the final. So if you think about them, that means you have eliminated yourself from getting that gold. All you have to do is think of reaching that line first and then you’ll see what the results are.


Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo congratulates USA’s Noah Lyles for winning the men’s 100m final during the World Athletics Championships at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest on August 20, 2023. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

What about in your training and in those moments where you’re grinding towards your goals? Does his name ever cross your mind then?

Tebogo: I think it only crossed my mind on the [moments] in training where I felt lazy. I really hate [training] during our base program. But he crossed my mind and I said to myself ‘I’ve got to do this so that one day I can beat him. If I can’t do [this workout] now, then I’ll never beat him.’

Thank you for sharing that. Alright, It’s time for a lightning round. What is your favorite dish from Botswana?

Tebogo: Our traditional dish is called “Pap”, and then the traditional spinach dish which is called “Morogo”, and then beef steak.

Afrobeats or Amapiano?

Tebogo: That’s a tough one but I’ll go with Amapiano.

Who is your favorite Amapiano artist at the moment?

Tebogo: I’ve got to go with Young Stunna and Njelic.

What’s been your most listened to song?

Tebogo: “Impumelelo” by Kabza De Small, Mthunzi, and Young Stunna

Editor’s Note: By Way of Africa is a series committed to highlighting the talent and stories from the African continent and its diaspora. African stories are worth telling, and the culture—all of the languages, tribes, and traditions—is worth celebrating. Embedded in these narratives is a profound testament to the diligence, discipline, and work ethic deeply ingrained in African heritage. Whether born on the continent or dispersed across the globe, the contributions of these stories to society resound uniquely, by way of Africa.