This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s feature on Letsile Tebogo, who just took second in the 200m at the London DL, to Noah Lyles, running an African record of 19..50, breaking the former record of Frankie Fredericks!
Letsile Tebogo finding form ahead of the World Championships.
During the press conference before the London Diamond League, all eyes were on Noah Lyles. The American usually is used to this kind of attention on him. He steps into no track meet where he won’t draw a crowd, and rightly so; he was asked about breaking Usain Bolt’s meeting record of 19.76, a time the outstanding Jamaican set 15 years ago. Of course, he sounded modest, but if there was any sprinter you would stake your last dollar to break it, it was Lyles.
What followed next was a question about Zharnel Hughes breaking the British record in the 200m. The 28- year-old had been in pristine form so far this season, and it was only a matter of time. So, it was expected that no one paid attention to Africa’s fast-rising star, Letsile Tebogo.
Letsile Tebogo, African Champs 2022, photo by Deji Ogeyingbo
Not that he didn’t matter, but in the grand scheme of things, his 19.87 Personal Best which he ran this season, was supposed to put him in contention; nothing magnificent was expected of the Botswanan whom many have dubbed the new Usain Bolt after his exploits at the World U20 Championship in Cali in 2022. Tebogo had sounded some note of warning a few days back with his 44.75s clocking in the 400m and his 9.93s over the 100m two days ago in Monaco. He was getting into gear.
Racing inside the London Stadium for the first time in his career, having also chalked up a few Diamond League races, almost nobody in the stadium expected the 20-year-old to produce such a refined and splendid race from lane 8. This is a kid that many had predicted to do great things and probably surpass Bolt, but he was still being tipped to be way ahead of the curve. Not at least for this year.
Most sprinters that take on the 200m always say they prefer to run on the inside of the world leader or perceived best in the event as they can get a first-hand look at how the race is unfolding. Tebogo was unflustered. With his trademark long stride, he took a bit of time to get into his groove and just coming off the curve, he was already behind Lyles, Hughes, and US’s Kyree King.
Letsile Tebogo, 100m champion, WA U20, photo by Marta Gorczynska for World Athletics
The home straight was where Tebogo began to reel in his rivals, and with one of the best top end speed in the sport at the moment, he chased down Hughes and Lyles, catching up with the former to place second in 19.50s, 0.03s behind Lyles. The time meant that he took down the great Frank Fredericks 27-year old record of 19.68s.
What makes Tebogo special is how he runs down his opponents with relative ease. The time shoots him to number six in the all-time list with just Bolt (19.19), Yohan Blake (19.26), Lyles (19.30), Michael Johnson (19.32), and Erriyon Knighton (19.49) ahead of him. Now, that’s what you call a proper talent. His capabilities and ceiling as an athlete haven’t been fully optimized yet, and with over a decade of sprinting to come, there is so much to expect from this rising star.
Letsile Tebogo, Botswana, 100m gold, photo by Marta Gorczynska for World Athletics
This result certainly puts Tebogo in the conversation of potentially medaling at the world championships in Budapest. You get the sense that he is currently in the place where Bolt was in 2007 when he won Silver in the 200m at the Osaka World Championships. Nothing is cast in stone as the scenarios aren’t exactly the same, but the similarities are glaring. A yet-to-be-matured sprinter up against an established runner like Lyles in the 200m or Fred Kerley in the 100m. It might just be a tad early, but if there was a warning sign about what he has to offer to the sport, London is yet another example of how good he can be.
Tebogo’s ability to maintain top speed around the curve and unleash a powerful sprint to the finish line makes him a genuine threat to his competitors. The newly-minted African record holder is poised to make history by bringing home a medal for Africa in either of the men’s 100m/200m.
As fans, coaches, and fellow athletes eagerly await his appearance on the global stage for the second time, the question remains: Can Letsile Tebogo’s extraordinary talent propel him to a podium finish and secure medals that would forever etch his name in athletics history? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain—Africa’s fast-rising star is ready to shine on the world’s grandest stage.