Makwala plans to retire In 2022/23

Botswana’s wing-footed athlete that a sports scientist at UB says is the best that the world ever produced qualified for the Olympic Games in stellar performances last weekend

Makwala plans to retire In 2022/23
Isaac Makwala celebrating after winning 200 meter men category and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic with his score during the BAA national athletics championship at the National Stadium in Gaborone on 2021. (Pic:Monirul Bhuiyan/PRESS PHOTO)

Former African 400m record holder, Isaac Makwala, is planning to end his career on the track in 2022 or 2023, The Business Weekly Sport has established.

This is the man who last weekend qualified for his third consecutive Olympic Games. The 35-year old did so in style, qualifying for the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in the 400m race with a time of 44.65 seconds and 20.15 seconds in the 200m during the National Finals of the Botswana Athletics Association (BAA).

“This will be my last Olympics but not my last international competition,” Badman, as Makwala is otherwise known, told this publication in an exclusive interview. “My plan is to retire in 2022 or 2023.”

After qualifying for the Olympics in two individual events, which makes him the first Motswana (in athletics) to do so, Badman says he is undecided about which race to go into in Tokyo. “My plan was to run my last 400m in 2020 but COVID-19 disrupted my plans when the Olympics were postponed to this year,” he told Business Weekly Sports. “But since I have qualified for both the 200m and the 400m. I will have to see how my season goes.”

His personal coach, Jusitce Dipeba, says he was not surprised to see Badman qualify for the Olympics in two events. “He is a very dynamic athlete and can do all the sprint events,” Dipeba said in an interview. “I expected this performance because he has shown his capabilities before and I think given time, Makwala can go on to make more history.”

Dipeba, who also serves as coach of the national athletics team, has been Badman’s personal coach for the past seven years. Asked on how working with his fleet-footed sensation is, Dipeba answered: “He is one of the easiest athletes to work with. One thing that makes it easier is that he loves and respects other athletics. Makwala is a very disciplined and determined athlete.

“Every time he steps on the track, he becomes a study in focus and seriousness, be in training or in competitions. All these years that I have worked with him, he has never given an excuse for not doing a workout in training, no matter how tough it may be. I enjoy coaching him because he does whatever I want him to do wholeheartedly.”

Himself a former national team athlete, Dipeba is keenly aware that at his age, Badman is prone to injuries and worries about this spoiling his Olympics journey. “That is why I watch what I give him in terms of the training programme,” he says. “At his age, avoiding injury is more important than ever, hence his training programme is planned around that because he has been in this business for quite some time now. I am glad that he also takes rest and his diet seriously.”

Weighing in with expert analysis, former national team athlete who is also a University of Botswana sports science lecturer, Dr. Tshephang Tshube, said he is not in awe that Badman is dishing stellar performances even at the age of 35. “Athletes’ careers, including those doing sprints, are getting longer and longer. For example, Justin Gatling (USA sprinter) will this year be going for his fourth Olympic Games at 39. If athletes take care of their bodies through a great diet, a quality training programme and good recovery, they can go on for even longer.”

Dr. Tshube noted that Badman is a “very special athlete” because of a number of reasons. “First, he is one of the most dedicated, determined and committed athletes that Botswana, and arguably the world, has ever produced,” he asserted. “He trusts and relates very well with his coach, which accords well with his quality coaching and training. Secondly, his discipline in his sport is second to none. He monitors his diet very well. In addition, he doesn’t take alcohol and is never implicated in any issues that could hurt his career. We therefore need to encourage our athletes to not take any alcohol and to really focus on their game, so to speak.”

Born in Tutume in 1985, Makwala is the oldest member of Botswana’s national athletics team. He has been a feature of running tracks around the world for more than a decade and is undoubtedly one of the best athletes that Botswana has ever had with an exceptional record that precedes the man. This is the national record holder in three sprint races - the 200m (19.77), the 300m (31.44) and the 400m (43.72).

Under the tutelage of Dipeba, Makwala established himself as a brand in international athletics in 2014. That was when he accomplished the fastest double ever in a single day in the 200m and the 400m races, breaking the 400m African record in 44.01 and winning the 200m in 19.96 one and-a-half hours later. He performed this feat at the La Chaux-de-Fonds meet in Switzerland.

But Makwala would achieve greater fame at the 2017 World Championships when he ran a solo 200m time trial in 20.20s to qualify for the semi-finals. Two hours later, he qualified for the final after going 0.06 sec faster. He had to run the solo time trial because he was barred from taking part in 200m heats for suspicions that he had norovirus, a highly contagious disease that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. But he also did not run the 400m final where he was the most significant threat to the eventual champion, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk.

Proving himself hard to put down, Makwala tasted his maiden title (with the national team) in 2018 when he claimed the Commonwealth Games 400m gold medal in 44.35. A dull season followed in 2019 due mainly to injuries. And just when he was on the cusp of a comeback last year, a murderous virus struck the world and forced people inside their homes everywhere.

However, his coach says he decided to use that period to fuel Badman more as evidenced by his wing-footed performances last weekend. Will Makwala win his first Olympic medal in his last participation in the Games in Tokyo? The answer is in his ever-nimble feet that belie his age.