Nijel Amos blazes through the 800m final, earning Botswana's first medal

David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya wins gold and set a new world record whilst Nijel Amos of Botswana takes silver at London 2012.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya wins gold and set a new world record whilst Nijel Amos of Botswana takes silver at London 2012. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it. 

The background

Botswana made their Olympic debut at Moscow 1980. However, it would take 24 years before the Southern African nation would reach new heights at the Games. At Athens 2004, the 4x400m relay team managed to reach the finals before Amantle Monsho qualified for the 400m finals at Beijing 2008. In both instances, Botswana failed to reach the podium.

It would take a young fresh-faced teenager to get Botswana what they had been chasing all along - an Olympic medal.

Raised by his grandmothers, Nijel Amos grew up in rural Marobela and had to walk seven kilometres each way to go to his school in town. Despite this, he still found time to be active, playing football and running but his true talents lied in athletics.

“I started properly doing athletics when I finished at high school in 2011,” he explained to World Athletics. “My high school coach, Mr Mafefe, decided that I should focus on 800m. I did 1:47 at the age of 17. That’s when it started. When I finished my high school, that’s when I decided, ‘yeah, I can do this professionally'."

Amos began making waves, placing third at the African Junior Athletics Championships before taking part in the World Youth Championships in Athletics where he placed fifth in the 800m.

A year later, the 18-year-old athlete would win the world junior 800m title in Barcelona. But it would be his London 2012 debut where he would achieve his greatest success.

Nijel Amos of Botswana at London 2012 settles for silver after David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya wins gold at the 800m at London 2012.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Nijel Amos of Botswana at London 2012 settles for silver after David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya wins gold at the 800m at London 2012. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

History in the making

Amos was largely unknown to the rest of the world when he arrived in London and was expected to only take part to gain some competition experience.

Despite being a newcomer, he was up against the world's best athletes including David Rudisha from Kenya, who was one of his idols. Rudisha, who going into the Games held the world record set at the 2010 Diamond League in Rieti, Italy, was not only the man to beat but also the crowd favourite.

However, this did not faze the 18-year-old. In his mind, he had already exceeded expectations just by making the 800m final.

“When I got to London, I was confident, because it was just weeks after the World Juniors, which was my second 1:43 in a just over month, so I was having that confidence,” Amos said.

"I knew that if I could stick with the guys I could get something. My aim was not to win, or to win a medal. My aim was just to be in the final. So after I got to the final I was happy and had nothing to lose. I’d achieved my aims, thank God. My coach told me to remember that I didn’t have anything to lose and to just go there and have fun.”

In the starting blocks, Rudisha was in lane 3 while Amos was next to him in lane 4 - the master and apprentice side-by-side.

As expected, when the gun went off, Rudisha dominated the race. Abubaker Kaki from Sudan was just a shoulder behind him with Amos trailing far behind. At 600m, Rudisha would continue to power through. But midway through the final lap, the athlete from Botswana would come out of nowhere to close Rudisha's lead.

The Kenyan favourite won gold and broke his own world record (1:40:91) while Amos stunned the world when he took silver in 1:41:73, which was also a new world junior record.

After crossing the finish line, Amos lay down on the track and passed out, and had been lifted on a stretcher to a medical room to recover.

After three decades of being at the Olympic Games, Botswana had finally won a medal thanks to this young athlete who gave it his all.

Life-changing impact

Amos came home to a hero's welcome and received a pay cheque from the government including a gift of six cows.

After London 2012, the athlete from Botswana had not only become a formidable rival of Rudisha but was able to surpass him on several occasions.

In 2014, the 20-year-old Amos beat Rudisha at the Commonwealth Games and again in the 2015 London Diamond League meet at the Olympic Stadium - the same venue where they first came face-to-face.

To date, Amos has won six out of seven races against Rudisha.

While Amos didn't perform well at Rio 2016 and missed the semi-finals in the 800m, his career has continued to go from strength to strength. At the 2018 Monaco Diamond League meet, Amos ran at 1:42:14 - his best performance since 2012 - and then clocked 1:41:89 in the same meet the following year, showing that there's still so much that this athlete can achieve.

“Nijel Amos has brought us an Olympic medal before so we expect him to bring another one again this time around," Botswana Athletics Association President Oabono Theetso told The Patriot Sport.

Now based in Oregon, USA, Amos, who is now 26 has already qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“It is not easy to have a fluent training programme with lockdowns and all, imposed. Now all I am focusing on is to keep the positive energy, and get ready as much as I can for whenever Olympics happen,” Amos told the mmegi.bw website.

Next year, the 800m will be contested by the world's best. And this lineup now includes Amos - no longer a fresh-faced athlete but a seasoned champion who's going for Olympic gold for his country.