Women to Watch in London 2012: Amantle Montsho

Your feminist-friendly guide to the women of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. This time, let’s meet the woman hoping to win the first-ever Olympic medal for her country in “the most unique race” in athletics: Amantle Montsho.

Country: Botswana, though she moved across the continent to Dakar, Senegal to train in 2005. At the time, she spoke neither of the common languages of Senegal, French and Wolof: she grew up speaking Senetswe and English on her father’s farm in northern Botswana.

Sport: 400m sprint.

Likely to Win: Gold – or a medal at least. She’s the current world champion ““ an event she won in August last year with a time of 49.56 seconds.

Montsho beat Allyson Felix of the USA to win gold in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011

Her personal best is 49.54, set just last month: however, she was beaten this year by Sanya Richards-Ross, whose PB is 49.34 and won bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Other reasons she’s interesting:

If she does win gold this year it will be Botswana’s first Olympic medal of any kind in any event. Montsho competed in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics: her 2004 appearance was the first ever by a female athlete from Botswana; and though she qualified for the 2008 400m final, she finished last. She would also be the first woman from Africa to ever win an Olympic 400m. No pressure, then!

As a child, she had the talent and the desire to run and train faster and harder than anyone else – even though athletics is not a prestigious activity in Botswana, especially for women:

 Women in Botswana are too scared to run. They like beauty too much. They don’t want to be muscular. You have to go through pain to get where Amantle is.

– Pako Seribe, a fellow 400m runner from Botswana.

Here, people can’t really conceive of being a woman and training every day. They are waiting for you to have a husband and a family. We wear the colors of our country, but we are not well received, because people think sports are just for men.

 – Aminata Diouf, Senegalese athlete who also trains in Dakar.

Montsho left school at 16, worked in a shop, and regularly travelled 10 hours at a time to train and go to race meets. Now, her training is funded by an Olympic Solidarity scholarship through her centre in Senegal – one of several that the International Olympic Committee fund (she also has a sponsorshop with Nike).

Shy and unassuming, she’s a star in Botswana and is credited with inspiring many young people – especially young women – to train in track and field events.

I think from here, starting from here, I’ll be an example for the young athletes in Botswana… I think they will work hard from me winning the gold medal here.

– Amantle after winning the World Championship last year.

Amantle is not just a genuine champion, but also a genuine person. When we see her around town at events in her honour, we see the same self-effacing woman every time – her modesty is no pretense. Sadly, we can almost never see her run because the rights to view are too expensive for our local stations to buy.

commenter on her NY Times profile.

It’s expected that 2012 will be her last chance for an Olympic medal: when she retires, she plans to move back to Botswana, perhaps to coach, go to college, or run her own business.

Watch her: The first qualified is 12pm on Friday 3rd August; hopefully followed by the semi-finals the next day at 8:05pm, and the finals on Sunday 5th at 9:1opm (all times GMT). I’ll be rooting for her to bring a medal – gold, silver, or bronze – home to Botswana.

Other Women to Watch: Maya NakanishiNur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, and Katie Taylor.




Sources: New York Times (her childhood, life in Senegal, training details), NBC Olympics, IAAF, Running Times.


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