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Meet Letsile Tebogo - the rising track star tipped as the next Usain Bolt

Botswana's Letsile Tebogo is ticking all the right boxes of being the next Usain Bolt in terms of performances, but he has got a rival to watch out for in Erriyon Knighton.

Letsile Tebogo is the 100m WU20R holder

Ever since Usain Bolt retired in 2017, so many athletes have been tipped as his successor at breaking his numerous World Records (WR) and surpassing his outstanding feats.

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A few have been close to doing this, but none arguably has the world eager for what is coming, as we have in Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo.

Tebogo started as a well-rounded footballer, but injuries hampered his football career, so he focused on running. The teenager did not take sprints seriously until 2019, when he raced his first major 100m in 10.68s and clocked 21.12s in the 200m.

He announced himself to the global athletics world when he won the 100m title and 200m Silver medal at the 2021 World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. Doing this, he became the first athlete from his country to win 100m Gold at any World Championships level.

Furthermore, he became the second athlete from his country to win a Gold medal at the World U20 Championships, after Nijel Amos. His winning time of 10.19s and 200m time of 20.38s laid the marker for what to expect from the youngster in 2022.

The speedster started the new year with a bang, running a 400m Personal Best (PB) of 46.09s, and on February 19, 2022, the 19-year-old set a new 100m National Record (NR) and PB of 10.08s at the Botswana Athletics Championships.

Two months later, he became the first man from Botswana to break the 10s mark as he clocked 9.96s at the Gaborone International Meet, setting a new World U20 Record (WU20R).

At the African Senior Championships in Mauritius, Tebogo claimed his first senior continental title, cruising to victory in the 200m in a time of 20.26s (3.0m/s) ahead of Cameroon’s Emmanuel Eseme with 20.61s, again becoming the youngest winner of this event in the history of the championships.

The win earned him qualification for the 200m at the World Championships in Oregon, although he opted to compete in just the 100m. In Oregon, he did the unthinkable by further improving his WU20R to 9.94s in the 100m heats, defeating former World Champion, Yohan Blake (Jamaica) and former Africa’s fastest man, Akani Simbine (South Africa) in the process.

His time broke Trayvon Bromell’s (USA) former record of 9.97s to become the only second junior athlete in history under 10s.

The following month at the World U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia, he was the star performer again, stamping his authority in the event, blasting to a CR of 10.00s (-0.6m/s) in his heat - signalling his intent for glittering glory in Cali.

Then the following day, he returned to the track to retain his title in a blistering 9.91s – improving his own WU20R despite celebrating with 30 metres to go. His celebration drew comparisons to Usain Bolt’s celebration of his then WR of 9.69s at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

While some people saw this as offensive to other young competitors who lined up with him, the Botswana athlete shared his perspective afterward: “If somebody took it as disrespect, I’m really sorry”, he said. “(It was so) everybody watching at home can enjoy the race – to remind them a little bit about what Usain Bolt did back in the day. He’s my idol – the person I look up to”, Tebogo said in his interview with World Athletics.

Come the 200m final he did not have a chance to look. After setting another CR of 19.99s in his 200m heat the morning after his 100m triumph, he was on the hunt for a second Gold medal. This time he had Israel’s 18-year-old Blessing Akawasi Afrifah for company, and they pushed each other to a CR of 19.96s, with Afrifah taking Gold and Tebogo Silver.

Their time moved them to equal third on the World U20 all-time list, behind Erriyon Knighton and Bolt. The time is also an African U20 Record.

After six races in four days, Tebogo said: “This is the best race that I have ever run in my life so far. I’m really grateful for the performance and it’s not everybody who can run these fast times, four days in a row.”

Nothing excites the rising star more than being referred to as a WR holder like the 'legendary Bolt', who broke the WR 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.

Though the spotlight is on Tebogo in the 100m, Erriyon Knighton has been the shinning light with his record-breaking performances in the 200m.

Knighton is an American youngster in the 100m and 200m, who came into global reckoning in 2020 after running the second fastest time by a U18 athlete in world history, with a time of 20.33s in the final of the 2020 USA Track and Field Junior Olympics.

In 2021, at age 17, he broke the 10s barrier over the 100m with a wind-aided 9.99s (2.7m/s). A few weeks later, he set the World U18 best in the 200m running a time of 20.11s, which broke Bolt’s record of 20.13s.

He would later improve this time to 20.04s at the US Olympic Trials, then further to 19.88s the following day, breaking Bolt’s WU20R of 19.93s, and in the final, he ran 19.84s qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

This year the 18-year-old has been on a 200m junior record-breaking spree. He started with an unratified 200m WU20R of 19.49s at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge.

Then ran an official WU20R of 19.69s at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships and went on to win the Bronze medal at the World Championships in Eugene, becoming the youngest-ever individual medallist in the history of the Championship.

“It feels good to be so young and be on the podium. There's more to come,” he said. “Noah Lyles told me I will be one of the greatest in the sport. It feels good coming from him.” Knighton said in his interview with World Athletics.

While Knighton chose not to compete in the youth and junior championships after signing a professional contract with Adidas at age 16, Tebogo was content with being undisputed at the World U20 Championships. Although, he has now signed a professional contract with Nike.

The duo have been listed as the five finalists for the 2022 World Athletics Rising Star Award. This is the first nomination for the Botswana athlete, but the American is making a second appearance after winning the 2021 Rising Star honour.

These speedsters have broken all Bolt's records as a junior athlete, which are great signs of them getting better as the years come by. Since they are now professionally signed with Nike and Adidas, it means we'll see more of them in the professional circuit trying to chase down all of Bolt's senior records.

They have shown their ability of dominating one sprint event more than the other, and if any of them is to step in the big shoes of the legend, they have to find a way to excel at both events equally as the Jamaican did.

One thing is sure; athletics fans are in for thrilling times with these brilliant athletes for many years to come.

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