Masheto brings medals to Illini track

By Stuart Lieberman

Gakologelwang Masheto, also called “Shoes,” has been running an individual race for his entire life. That is, up until last month, when he began to run for the Illinois men’s track and field team.

Shoes, a sophomore from the village of Tutume, Botswana, arrived in the United States on Jan. 4, poised to become a member of a competitive sports team for the first time.

He received his nickname back in the days when he was a standout striker on the soccer field. These days, his main focus is on the track, where the name “Shoes” has endured.

He chose to run for the Illini because he admired the results of their performance as a team in past meets.

“When I looked at the school guide, I discovered that the guys were doing well,” he said.

Head coach Wayne Angel felt that he would be the right fit for the team.

“He is going to be everything we expected and more,” Angel said.

Back in Africa, Shoes trained and raced as an individual runner. He said that his former coach, who is from Scotland, really helped him to become a better runner. However, a lot of the time he found himself training alone, due to the fact that he did not live close to his coach.

“I was training alone because my coach was so far away,” he said. “It is a difficult thing to train alone.”

As a hometown hero in Botswana, Shoes received a bronze medal in the 400-meter run and silver in the 4×400-meter relay in the 2003 African Championships. In 2004, he received four medals in the National High School Championships and qualified for the Olympics, but declined to go because he wanted to complete his final high school exams. He became a national star that year when he won seven gold medals in a single competition in Serowe, Botswana.

The following year he represented Botswana in the world championships in Helsinki, Finland. Shoes believes that his toughest challenge came in March 2006, at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

“It was my first time to run an individual event in front of such a big crowd,” he said.

He went to Melbourne to represent his country and earned a spot in the semi-finals in the 400-meter run. Last August, he received a bronze medal in the 4×400-meter relay at the African Championships in Mauritius.

Being a part of a team dynamic is a new thing for Shoes, but it is something that he is happy to take full advantage of. The Illini are the first team on which he has raced, and he has adjusted extremely quickly.

Training with a team means a more intense atmosphere, but also more improvement. Shoes finds it easier to train with a team, and therefore feels that he is still improving.

“The guys are encouraging each other and working well,” he said. “I practice more here. Every time I train, there is an improvement.”

A quiet role model on the sidelines, Shoes did not wait to reveal his speed to his teammates on the track. On Jan. 27, he took first place in the 600-meter run with a time of 1:19:28 at the Carle/Health Alliance Invite at the Armory.

“He is a lion on the track,” Angel said, impressed with his performance.

Last weekend, at the Meyo Invitational in South Bend, Ind., Shoes proved that he was just as much of a member of the team as anybody else. He captured first place in the 400-meter dash with a provisional qualifying time and personal best of 47.18.

Angel feels Shoes will be a great contributor on the track team, especially when Big Ten Indoor Championships begin later this month.