'I want to go to the Olympics in 2024' - rising star Karabo Motsoeneng does it for her mom
To understand the challenges faced by South Africa's women in sport, black women especially - look no further than the sport of athletics. Since the country first participated at the Olympic Games in 1996, only Geraldine Pillay, Tsholofelo Thipe, Caster Semenya, Alyssa Conley and Lebo Phalula have donned the Olympic green and gold with Pillay having been the first to do so in Athens 2004. Moreover, we are still waiting for our first black female Comrades Marathon champion.
There is no shortage of talent but the double edged sword of poverty and a lack of real opportunity for girls in the townships and rural areas in particular, can conspire to frustrate even the most determined young runner. So when one struggles out of the quagmire, showing potential as a future Olympian there is the understandable collective excitement that maybe this one will make it. The latest young woman to show all of those attributes is 19-year-old Karabo Motsoeneng who recently returned from the World Athletics U20 Championships in Colombia.
"I started running at the age of six, but I didn't know that it's my talent. I realised I had talent when I won a national cross country title in 2011 in Kimberley while attending Poelano Primary School in Frankfort. We then move to Sasolburg where I did my high school. In 2019 I qualified to represent my province at the SA Schools Championships in PE where coach Tebogo Radebe saw me and I was offered a scholarship to attend Prestige College in Pretoria," she told #TheTopRunner at the OR Tambo International Airport upon her return from Cali on Women's Day.
Although Motsoeneng finished eighth in that girls U17 1500m race (4:55.33) won by a young Prudence Sekgodiso at the Nelson Mandela University Stadium, Radebe saw something special in her, particularly in the 3000m event where she just missed out on the medals with a 10:23.64 fourth place finish. Then sixteen years old, Motsoeneng also impressed with a second place finish (16:00) in the u16 girls 4km race at the SA Schools Athletics Cross Country Championships in the same year. Radebe knew she had talent and brought her to Hammanskraal where she began working with coach George Bradley in 2020.
"We have been working well together. At first it took a while for me to get used to his training, but I told myself that I have to stick with it and be disciplined so that I can achieve what I want to in life. I have to stay focused and listen to my coach. So we have been working well together until today," she explained.
That mature attitude towards training, coupled with the guidance of an experienced coach immediately bore fruit. Motsoeneng improved on her 1500m PB running 4:38.30 in March 2020 and then 10:00.35 for 3000m later that year. But it was in 2022 that the matric student's performances became world class. 16:39.16 at the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships in April earned her qualification for the World Junior Championships and she followed that performance with a red hot 9:31.31 in the 3000m in May. So she was disappointed when she could only manage second last position (18:35.51) at the World Athletics U20 Championships earlier this month.
"I was so excited to go and represent my country because it was my dream and it was my first time. I was ready for my race in Colombia but I'm not happy with the result. I think I panicked because it was my first time overseas representing my country. I wasn't very comfortable and it was a new experience being in a different country with a crowd of people. What I have learnt is that I must just focus on my race and forget about everything else. I have to train ever harder than I did before I went to Colombia," reflected the young woman who is now one of the ambassadors for the SPAR Women's Virtual Challenge which takes place on 3 September.
That eye-opening experience has left Motsoeneng armed with a new confidence to attack a maiden Olympic birth in Paris in two years. And she has the extra motivation that will be needed to carry her past the inevitable hurdles that lay in her path. Karabo wants to do it for her mother who herself was a promising athlete but was unable to find an opportunity to express her talent to its full potential.
"My mother was so excited when I was chosen to represent the country. She couldn't believe that I would be going overseas. She has always wanted this for me since I was a young girl. She has been guiding me since then to achieve my goals, so she was too excited. She even cried when she saw me representing South Africa. I want to go to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics in 2024."