Botswana’s Isaac Makwala has achieved what he set out to do, winning his first major championship gold medal with a well-executed 44.35 in the men’s 400m final.
The race also gave the southern African nation its third gold medal at a Commonwealth Games and it’s fourth medal with teammate Baboloki Thebe pipping Jamaica’s Javon Francis to silver.
“I came here ready for this and everything has been going well since the IAAF World Championships,” Makwala said after his winning race.
Anyone who has ever played left-back on a soccer field against a speedy right winger knows it can be a hairy experience. So defenders across the globe should breathe a sigh of relief that Makwala eventually decided to swap his footy boots for track spikes.
“I was a good footballer, and I was always up the right wing,” he laughs.
“I was so fast, it was difficult to mark me! I concentrated on playing football until I was 23 but then I tried out athletics, and I realised I liked doing a solo event rather than a team one. I felt that I could be good, so I decided to become an athlete.”
Makwala believes his late start in professional sport is the reason it’s only now, aged 31, that he seems to be entering his prime. Last summer, at the Meeting de Atletismo Madrid, he became the first man ever to run the 200m in under 20 seconds (19.77) and the 400m in under 44 seconds (43.92) on the same day.
“I think starting late means I took longer to get fast, and I am definitely peaking a bit later than a lot of runners,” he says.
Usain Bolt was a star attraction at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The sight of him anchoring Jamaica to 4x100m gold, and then dancing to The Proclaimers with the crowd, is one the Hampden Park spectators won’t forget in a hurry.
But with the greatest sprinter of all time since retired, there’s a vacancy at the top and Makwala feels it will be filled by another Commonwealth athlete.
“My aim is to become the best, to move up, and be number one,” he says.
The 200m especially is wide open at the moment, and there is a chance for somebody new to try to dominate the event.
“There’s Wayde van Niekerk and of course the Jamaicans, who produce so many good runners. The competition is going to be really good. It’s an exciting time for the sport.”
Makwala had an odd 2017. There was the blistering performance in Spain, but also the disappointment of the World Athletics Championships in London, during which he caught the norovirus and was initially barred from running in the heats.
He eventually completed a bizarre solo time trial to make the semifinals (and celebrated with a press-up in front of a wild London crowd), but struggled in a final which was won by Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev.
“It wasn’t so good for me, and Rio (2016 Olympic Games, where he failed to reach the 400m final) wasn’t so good, but now I am looking for my chance this season,” he says.
Makwala and Thebe will now join forces in pursuit of another gold for Botswana in the men’s 4x400m relay on Saturday 14 April at Carrara Stadium.
“We also should have a very competitive relay team at the Gold Coast,” he said.
I feel like the Botswana team is top four in the world.”
Makwala’s mantra is ‘champions are not born, champions are made’. As a Manchester United and Barcelona-supporting soccer fan who loves Lionel Messi, the man who switched sports eight years ago knows what it takes to be a winner.
“Anything can be achieved through training hard and hard work,” he says.
And few will be training harder, or running faster, at the Games.