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Veteran athlete is unsung hero

Pascalinah Kabi

MASERU — When angry Basotho were busy razing Maseru to the ground in 1998, Thabiso Moqhali was quietly making a name for himself away from the madding crowd.
Moqhali, then 25, competed and won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998.
The victory was particularly sweet for Moqhali who was a virtual unknown in the international athletics fraternity.
Now almost 11 years after that stunning feat, Moqhali remains the only Mosotho to win a medal of note at a major sporting event.
But after such a glittering career in athletics, Moqhali has slipped into virtual obscurity on the national radar.
Talk of a prophet not getting due recognition in his own village.
Moqhali, who is now 42, resurfaced at the City to City Ultra Marathon held in Pretoria, South Africa, a fortnight ago.
He came a distant 27.
He came second under the veterans’ section.
“Though I still have that hunger to win, I am a veteran now and the days are over,” Moqhali admitted to the Sunday Express.
“I had always wanted to take part in the marathon but I did not have the chance while I was still young.”
Speaking to the Sunday Express last week, Moqhali reminisced about his achievement in 1998.
He said his stunning victory was never celebrated by his fellow countrymen.
The victory came amidst bitter political clashes in Maseru that saw angry opposition party supporters raze the city in protests.
He said he clearly remembered the events of that day.
He said prior to the race he was confident that he would hold his own against the mighty Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Kenyans and Ethiopians have generally dominated world athletics events.
He said although the tall and athletic Kenyans and Ethiopians were physically intimidating, he was determined to bring the medal home.
He had for years dreamt of bringing a gold medal home.
The rest, as they say, is now history.
Moqhali said he grabbed the gold after clocking an incredible 2 hours, 19 minutes and 15 seconds in the 42.2 kilometre marathon.
The medal was to prove to be the only one to be won by Lesotho at a major sporting event.
Immediately after the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Moqhali’s career went downhill.
He said he was hit by a spate of personal misfortunes.
First, he lost his wife, ‘Mathabo.
Then he became ill.
The problems proved a tall order and eventually forced him to quit the athletics track in 2000.
A snap survey conducted by the Sunday Express last week showed that Moqhali remains virtually unknown in his own country.
“Who are you talking about?” Palesa Molatoli asked when confronted by the Sunday Express.
“I have heard about the name at home but I don’t know much about him,” she said. “I have an interest in sport but I do not know him.”
Sejanamane Maphathe, the spokesman of the Lesotho Amateur Athletics Association, said Moqhali was an outstanding athlete in his heyday.
 “He is the only athlete that Lesotho produced who won gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia,” Maphathe said.
Chaplin Mokete, the founder of Chaplin Athletics Development Club, said Moqhali was an exemplary athlete.
Mokete was Moqhali’s trainer at the Commonwealth Games in 1998.
“Moqhali is a professional who remains unknown by most people,” Mokete said.
 “Unlike most athletes, Moqhali never allowed anything to stand in the way of success.”
He said Moqhali has always been a brilliant athlete since his student days at Masianokeng High School.
“Moqhali started winning the 800, 1 500 and 5 000 metre races during his years at Masianokeng High School,” Mokete said.
Following his retirement from the track, Moqhali joined the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation as a sports organiser.
He is also the founder and coach of Matsoake Athletics Club in Maseru.
Moqhali said the current crop of athletes have the potential to end Lesotho’s 11-year drought for a medal.
But to do that, they need real focus and dedication.
“They (athletes) do not have a problem but a win like that needs a person with more focus,” he said.

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