Isaac Makwala made international headlines at the Athletics World Championships in London earlier this month when he was sensationally banned from running in the 400m final on suspicion of having contracted norovirus.
It was a race many believed the 30-year-old ‘Badman’ could win, with sceptics claiming a ‘conspiracy’ from event organiser’s the IAAF to stop Makwala from challenging the sport’s new poster boy, Wayde Van Niekerk. .
The drama did not end there.
Having originally been barred from the 200m’s, Makwala was given the chance to run a solo time-trial to qualify for the semi-finals.
Under immense pressure, and despite the biting cold and torrential rain, the Tutume-native did just that, racing against the clock to record a 20:20 time when 20:53 was required.
After the race, Makwala celebrated with some push-ups to prove his fitness – an action that went viral on social media and led to the #MakwalaChallange, with fans posting pictures of themselves doing push-ups.
The drama did not end there.
Two hours later and Makwala lined up for the semi-finals, where, roared on by the crowd, he easily made it into the final as the third-fastest qualifier.
Sadly, the following day fatigue took its toll and the ‘Badman’ finished a disappointing 6th, narrowly missing out on the medal he so richly deserved.
The three-time African 400m champion will be rewarded with a Presidential Certificate of Honour for his heroic efforts at London, which captivated not just a nation but the sporting world as a whole.
It is also just reward for a fine career and an athlete that has been a great ambassador for Botswana over the years.
This week, Makwala took time out of his preparations for Thursday’s Diamond League Final in Zurich for an emotional chat with Voice reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo.
Q. It’s exactly 14 days since the 400m final, which you were infamously barred from taking part in. At the time you described yourself as heartbroken – how are you feeling now?
A. It’s been two weeks already! Wow, it feels like yesterday.
The whole drama that happened there hurt a lot.
I think I still need proper counselling so that I can forget about the whole thing.
That was sabotage!
Q. Do you think there was a conspiracy to keep you from running the 400m?
A. Yes, I still believe there was a motive behind the whole thing.
I insisted I was fit and ready to race but I was barred from the 400 metres final on medical grounds yet there was no tests done.
I found security people waiting for me by the athletes’ entrance – they stopped me from entering the stadium.
Q. What actually happened in the build up to that fateful day?
A. I was supposed to participate in the 200m heats and when I came out of the bus I vomited.
The medical team took me to medical room – they suspected I had food poisoning and they reported it to the IAAF.
I did my warm up but when I went to changing room, I was forced to withdraw from the 200m.
The following day I was told I would not be allowed to compete in the 400m final because they were claiming they were waiting for medical results.
I was shocked because there were no tests done.
Q. Do you think you would have won?
A. Before the saga I was on form and I had prepared well for the race and yes I was going to win it!
Q. What was going through your mind when you lined up alone for the 200m solo time trial?
A. Hahaha! The solo run, eish ke ne ke tshogile (I was frightened), I was angry and wanted to prove a point.
Q. How did it feel to have the eyes of the stadium/sporting world fixed entirely on you?
A. I tried to remain focused on my mission at that moment, which was to qualify for the 200m semi-finals.
I didn’t really recognise the crowd until the gun shot – then they cheered, which motivated me to run faster.
Q. You appeared to handle the pressure superbly well?
A. Handling pressure is an everyday thing for an athlete so that you do not have stage fright.
Q. Were the push-ups/salute afterwards planned or just a reaction?
A. (laughing) It was not a planned thing. I just wanted to thank that amazing crowd for their support and show off that I’m fit.
Q. Having run two 200m races the previous night, was fatigue a factor in the final?
A. Yes having run fast times in a day I didn’t get enough rest and I was tired.
It was just too much for me and I was psychologically not fit.
Q. Botswana failed to make the final of the 4x400m men’s relay, despite being one of the favourites for Gold. You were rested in the semis – was that your decision or did you want to run?
A. It was a hectic week; I was emotionally drained and tired. The coach felt I needed a rest and I appreciated that.
Q Have you spoken to Van Niekerk since he broke down after winning silver in the 200m? What’s your relationship with him like?
A. Wayde and I are very good friends, more like brothers.
We spoke and he understood the situation I was going through so everything is fine between us.
No hard feelings!
Q. You were in the form of your life going into London. You turn 31 next month – realistically, do you think your best chance of winning a World Championship medal has passed?
A. Realistically yes maybe this was my best chance.
It was so unfortunate that things did not go according to my plan.
Q. The Office of The President announced that you will receive a Presidential Certificate of Honour, how do you feel about it?
A. I am very happy and feel blessed.
Finally someone has recognised me for representing my country well.
It is a great honour. Thank you your excellency.
Q. Going back in time – when did you first become interested in athletics?
A. I started being interested and taking athletics seriously when I was at McConnel Senior School in 2005 and I was called for the national team.
Q. What’s the hardest thing about being an athlete from Botswana?
A. The most difficult thing is getting funds for proper preparations since we do not have a high performance centre.
If it wasn’t for Olympic solidarity funds through Botswana National Olympic Committee, most of us would not be where we are today.
Q. You’ve received massive support from Batswana, what’s your message to them?
A. To our nation at large, I’m humbled. Thank you so much for your prayers and support.
I received so many messages during that difficult time and it showed how much they appreciated my efforts of representing our country in international events.
Q. Much of that support came from female fans! Is there a special woman in your life?
A. I noticed that a lot of females gave me support – I really appreciate that.
And, yes, I have a special lady in my life.
Q. For those that don’t know – why the name ‘Badman’?
A. The name came when I was breaking national records and eventually the African record.
That’s how people started regarding me as a bad man on the track.
Q. Take us through an average day in the life of a professional athlete? What does it involve?
A. It involves sleeping a lot, eating enough healthy food and training at least two times a day.
Q. Away from athletics, who is Isaac Makwala?
A. Isaac is a young man from Madandume ward in Tutume.
I am the last born of Wonderful Makwala Moseki and Bopelo Makwala.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I’m an indoor person, I like watching television but if the league is on I go watch football and netball. When I’m home I go to the cattlepost.
Q. As an athlete you’ve travelled to some of the biggest, most beautiful cities in the world – which one is your favourite and why?
A. Los Angels is my favourite city apart from Gaborone.
It is just too beautiful.
Q. When are you coming back to Bots?
A. In September after the Diamond League.
Q. How are your preparations for this Thursday’s Diamond League final in Zurich going?
A. Preparations are going well and the 200m race I ran in Birmingham on Sunday was part of it to test the level of my fitness.
I’m ready and I will go all out to do my best.
Q. What’s next for the Badman after that?
A. I have another competition at Zagreb and I will come back home for a break.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. I will be training for the Zagreb IAAF World Challenge competition.