Who is Letsile Tebogo? Five things to know about the new world U20 100m record holder

The 18-year-old sprinter from Botswana broke an U20 world mark that had stood since 2014, and now has his eyes on the World Athletics Championships in Oregon and Paris 2024.

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by Fredrick_Omondi

Letsile Tebogo has reached another athletics milestone.

On 30 April Botswana's rising sprint star set a new world U20 100m record clocking 9.96 at the Gaborone International Meet.

The 18-year-old is only the second runner in history to break the 10-second barrier in the Under-20 age class.

At the 2021 World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, he became the first athlete from Botswana to win gold in the 100m on a global stage. He also picked up a silver in the 200m.

Looking ahead, the track teen prodigy will next attempt to medal in the 400m at the next World U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia, in August.

Tebogo, who has already qualified for the African Senior Athletics Championships at Mauritius and the World Championships in Oregon, is expected to be one of the names to watch at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Let's take a closer look at the talented African sprinter.

1- Footballer turned into track star

At the age of six, Tebogo was already a well-rounded footballer and sprinter.

His teachers encouraged him to practise both sports, but injuries hampered his football career so he opted to focus solely on track.

"I used to run past people and won medals. I also played football. Every time though I went to play football I was being benched,” he explained his other motivation to focus on track instead of football in an interview with Runblogrun.com.

[This] made me frustrated...and prompted my decision to go back to athletics as I saw [that] I am able to put food on the table for my family from that," added the runner whose single mother Seratiwa struggled to raise him and his younger brother.

At the 2016 Botswana Primary Schools Sport Association championships, he won the 100m, 200m, and the 4x100m relay, earning his first call-up to the national team.

Then aged 13 he went on to claim the 200m bronze and helped his team to the 4x100m relay silver at the Confederation of Schools Sports Association of Southern Africa Championships in Namibia.

2- Tebogo has been sprinting consistently for just over three years

The teenager “didn’t take sprints seriously until 2019” when he raced his first major 100m in 10.68 and clocked 21.12 in the 200m.

"For a while, I didn't pay more attention to athletics until about 2018-2019 when I realised I could go professional with it," Tebogo said.

He bettered his time at the world U20 event in Nairobi.

Tebogo then picked up where he left off in 2021 when he opened his season with a national 100m record of 10.08 at the Botswana Athletics Association Championships in February.

His most recent 9.96 run, which took 0.01 off Travyon Bromell’s world U20 record from 2014, has earned him a ticket to the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.

"The motivation to get into athletics was from watching the big guys like Isaac Makwala, Karabo Sibanda and Nijel Amos," explained Tebogo.

"However, I just really wanted some change in the country, so I had to do something different from the big guys, that’s why I opted to compete in the 100m and 200m."

The fast-rising star has already booked a spot at the World U20 Championships slated for 1-6 August, a week after the senior Worlds (15-24 July), and he’s tipped to medal at the African Athletics Championships in June (8-12) in Mauritius.

Tebogo plans to defend his world U20 100m title, but he’s considering scaling up to the 400m to avoid burn out after running in Oregon.

His personal best in the one-lap race is 46.09 from this January.

3- His favourite event is the 200m

Tebogo enjoys the longer dash event more than the 100m, and his target is to join the sub 20 club.

He was disappointed when he finished second behind Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike in the 200m last year in Kenya, and he now plans to sign off as a junior with a sprint double at the U20 Worlds in Cali.

4- He is a history maker

The U20 world champion was the first runner from Botswana ever to win a 100m event on a global stage.

He is still only the second man after London 2012 Olympics silver medallist Nijel Amos to win a gold medal in the World U20 Athletics Championships.

Tebogo is now the second sprinter to break the 10-second barrier after American Brommel.

USA's Matthew Boling ran a 9.98 in 2019 when he was also 18 but it didn’t go down in the history books because of the tailwind.

5- He looks up to Usain Bolt

The fastest man in history is eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt who ran 9.58 at the 2009 World championships in Berlin.

And nothing excites the rising star more than being referred to as a world record holder like the “legendary Usain Bolt”, who broke the world record when he was 23.

For the moment Tebogo is content with smashing junior records and being touted as one of Africa's sprinters to watch in 2022 and beyond.

“It’s time for Africa to take charge over the sprints and every event,” he said in the interview with Runblogrun.com.

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