Will Tebogo surpass Bolt?
On January 12, I heard the first sign of worry by a Jamaican that the incomparable Usain Bolt could lose his position as the best sprinter of all time. It came as a coach wondered what lies ahead in my presence. The cause of his worry is Letsile...
On January 12, I heard the first sign of worry by a Jamaican that the incomparable Usain Bolt could lose his position as the best sprinter of all time. It came as a coach wondered what lies ahead in my presence. The cause of his worry is Letsile Tebogo, the impressive 19-year-old from Botswana.
He and the legendary Jamaican have much in common. They stand a head taller than their peers. Both set World Under 20 records and collected global age group titles. Finally, both Bolt and Tebogo have an abiding love for the 200 metres.
Like Bolt, the 19-year-old Botswana prospect is an entertainer. Last year, in a race where he defended his World Under 20 100 metres title in the sprint friendly climes of Cali, Colombia, he turned to beckon to Jamaica’s Bouwahjgie Nkrumie while on his way to victory in the World Under 20 record time of 9.91 seconds. Twenty years ago, with the 2002 World Junior 200m gold medal at home in Trelawny, Bolt celebrated early while beating the seniors as he won his first national title.
Images of Tebogo’s Cali win would make anyone worry. He was like a man among boys there, and though he lost the 200m for the second World Under 20 Championships in a row, he left with his stocks high.
Like Bolt, his first showing at a senior global tournament was disappointing. An injured Bolt was eliminated early in the 200m at the 2004 Olympics. Tebogo did a little better at last year’s World Championships in Eugene, Oregon where he reached the 100m semifinals but no further.
The world records Bolt left behind, 9.58 and 19.19 seconds, are lofty targets. Compatriot Yohan Blake clocked 9.69 and 19.26 in 2011 before injuries wrecked his career, but no one else has come really close. Fast starting Christian Coleman dashed 9.74 seconds to win the 100m at the 2019 World Championships. In Eugene, Noah Lyles retained his 200 in 19.31 seconds, breaking the US record set by none other than Michael Johnson.
To be the best of his era, Tebogo has to conquer Coleman, Olympic champion Lamont Jacobs of Italy, Eugene 100m winner Fred Kerley and the rising Jamaicans Oblique Seville, fourth in Eugene, and NACAC champion Ackeem Blake in the 100m. In the 200m, Lyles is not the only obstacle as Erriyon Knighton has left Bolt’s 2004 World Under 20 record of 19.93 in the dust with times of 19.49, which was unratified through no fault of his, 19.69, 19.77, 19.80, 19.84 and 19.88.
Knighton, who was third in the Eugene 200m final, is just 18.
To be the best sprinter of all time, any challenger must start winning titles early as the Jamaican did at 21 with a world record double at the 2008 Olympics. That’s the only way to overhaul a legend who won six Olympic/World sprint doubles with five world records along the way. Given all that, the best advice to Tebogo is to take his career one race at a time.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.