Two fascinating articles shed light on my feelings about the Olympic Games.
The Republic of Botswana (one of my favorite African nations for its continuous peaceful electoral history, never a military coup, respect for human rights and an independent judiciary, and enormously high standard of living compared to other African nations) has never won an Olympic medal. Never. Of course Botswana has not fielded an athlete or team in the Winter Games (that could be fixed perhaps, see below) but they have never been successful in any Olympics since their first year in the Games in 1980. But this year might be different: Botswana has a legitimate medal contender.
From the Voice of America article:
Amantle Montsho says she has her eyes set on London, where she hopes to become the first athlete from Botswana to win an Olympic medal. The 400 meter specialist has already won world, African and Commonwealth titles, but it’s Olympic gold she craves the most. Montsho, who turns 29 on July 4th, won Botswana’s first world title in thrilling fashion last year in Daegu, South Korea. She held off a fierce challenge from American star Allyson Felix and set a Botswana national record of 49.56 seconds.
Watch the video associated with this article for the complete story!
For the past six years, the muscular Montsho has steadily improved her strength and speed at an international training center in Dakar, Senegal. An Ivorian coach at the center, Anthony Koffi, has watched Montsho’s progress and says she has desire to improve and that’s important. As for the importance of a winning a gold medal in London, Amantle Montsho says simply, “it would mean everything to me.”
I think that’s an understatement. Montsho would be a national heroine forever in her nation. She may be the new sports minister if they have one. From the NY Times:
For Montsho, who won her world title last year by three-hundredths of a second, the opportunity may be priceless. Government and sports officials in Botswana hope that she will become the first person from their country to win an Olympic medal. She already has an endorsement deal with Nike that provides her with running gear and appearance fees.
I am sure we have tremendously better training camps here in the United States:
The training center was founded in 1997. Like others in Jamaica and Cuba, the program is intended to pool athletes like Montsho from small countries and train them with elite coaches in a central location. Two world champions have emerged from the Dakar facility — Amy Mbacke Thiam, a 400-meter runner from Senegal, in 2001, and Montsho.
The center’s annual budget is $180,000 (plus $1,300 per month per athlete), with money going to salaries for three coaches, a director and a physiotherapist. About $41,000 a year is spent on housing and operations. While some athletes mingle on their own, social programs and extracurricular offerings are generally limited to language and information technology courses. Since opening, some 280 athletes have lived at the center, according to the I.A.A.F.
The weight room under the track is basic. Weights, some rusted, are hoisted over a wooden weight lifting pad. The room is lit only by the sunlight that streams through the windows. No music plays. The occasional car horn, jingle of a horse-drawn cart or bray of a goat breaks the quiet from outside.
But the word is encouraging for the athlete from Botswana. She has won a world championship and seems to have great times in practice. Time will tell if she has a shot. But my point is: Think about being a nation like Botswana. No medals, ever. Your national hopes ride on the health and ability of one or two people. Will she get hurt? Will she make the finals? No false starts or other disqualifications. A nation’s hopes (look at this photograph in this NY Times article) are riding on you or a handful of trained athletes. How would you like the Olympics then? Not so good perhaps.
Why should the United States support pro athletes in the Olympic games? It’s one thing to have a world championship in a sport like baseball or basketball (or the World Cup in soccer) and fill the teams with pros. But Olympic tennis? Does Serena Williams need another medal? How about Kobe Bryant? We are not (generally with the exception of the years surrounding the Spanish-American war) inperialistic. Why rig the game as we did in the 1994 Dream Team so we can win by running up the score? Is that consistent with the Olympic spirit? I think it smacks of sports imperialism. The teams you crush are real teams that are the pride of real nations. We are better than that. Let’s restore the Olympics to amateur status. Have free try outs for basketball. Not a smoke-filled room selection that is not representative of anything we stand for as Americans!
As the Greatest Hanoverian once said, “I know not what others may do, but as for me…” when the women’s 400 meter finals come up – I’ll be watching (Lord willing) and I’ll have my Botswana flag rooting for Amantle Montsho to get a medal. I won’t root against the US athlete, but it won’t break my heart if Montsho wins gold. That will mean a lot more to her and her people than one more medal for the US team. (Especially for our cadre of professional athletes which track and field is not!)
This Olympics I challenge my readers: Watch the sports we don’t do well in (badminton, ping-pong or men’s handball) or the sports we did not historically do well in (fencing) and leave Serena Williams and the men’s basketball team for the jingos to watch. And find nations that have never won a medal like Botswana and root for them to medal. You’ll feel better and so will they!
Try out this national anthem:
First verse:Blessed be this noble land, Gift to us from God’s strong hand, Heritage our fathers left to us. May it always be at peace. Awake, awake, O men, awake! And women close beside them stand, Together we’ll work and serve This land, this happy land.
Other Batswana (the technical English name for the people of Botswana) athletes who could medal are Kabelo Kgosiemang in the high jump and Gable Garenamotse in the long jump.
PS to the sports leaders in Botswana: Try curling for a winter sport. No African nation has a curling program recognized by the World Curling Federation. The nation probably has the money – start a club in Gaborone, set up dedicated curling ice, recruit teams and go for international competition. By the Olympics of 2018 or 2022, Botswana might be ready for the Winter Olympics. If curling can come to the South or Virginia, (and I am proud to have helped curling come to Virginia!) it can come to Africa! I would like to see the sport come to Botswana…