Isaac Makwala has 'unfinished business' at World Athletics Championships

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Isaac MakwalaIsaac Makwala has African, Commonwealth and Olympic medals, and has one more shot at success at the World Athletics Championships

Five years on from being forced out of the 400m final at the World Athletics Championships amidst huge controversy, Isaac Makwala heads to Oregon intent on winning the one medal missing from his collection.

For while Botswana's most successful sprinter has won medals at the Olympics, the African Championships and Commonwealth Games, the 36-year-old has yet to stand on the podium despite five previous visits to the World Championships.

His greatest chance was back in 2017, when Makwala was in the form of his life, only to be denied a chance to run the 400m final by officials trying to halt a norovirus outbreak they described as "very virulent".

"I have unfinished business with the World Championships," Makwala, who will hang up his spikes at the end of the season, told BBC Sport Africa.

"This year's Championships are important for me because I missed the [400m] in 2017, and in 2019 I didn't go to Doha because I was injured.

"This will be my last World Championships, and this is the medal that I'm missing - so my target is only that."

Having set six of his top 10 personal best 400m times in 2017, Makwala was in peak shape when he arrived in London as one of his event's favourites for the World Championships that August.

Only a month earlier, he had become the first man in history to run a sub-20 seconds in the 200m (setting a national record of 19.77s) and a sub-44 seconds in the 400m (43.92s) on the same day at an IAAF challenge meeting in Madrid, Spain.

Expected to face off against South Africa's 2016 Olympic champion and 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk in both the 200m and 400m, he was barred from the latter's final.

Said to be among 30 athletes and officials affected by an outbreak of norovirus, Makwala strongly denied this at the time.

"I vomited once and they decided that I was sick," the heartbroken athlete said in 2017 as he was ordered to leave the stadium before the 400m final.

Van Niekerk became world champion in the absence of his closest challenger, who has still yet to fully move on from the intrigues that surrounded his participation that day.

'The Solo Runner'

Isaac Makwala runs a 200m heat solo at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in LondonMakwala ran a time of 20.20 seconds in an individual time trial to reach the 200m semi-finals at the 2017 World Championships in London

Makwala's participation in London took another unexpected twist shortly after his exclusion from the 400m final.

Following a period of quarantine, an almighty row with organisers and a successful appeal, he was allowed to contest a 200m heat he was initially barred from running.

A time trial was arranged, leading to the highly-unusual scenario where he ran alone - with driving rain thrown in to accentuate the drama - in a bid to meet a qualifying time set by the organisers.

After beating the clock, Makwala celebrated with a series of trademark press-ups to great acclaim from a crowd who had roared him on.

He eventually made the final, where he finished sixth, but in the aftermath of the Championships Makwala was left with a "broken heart" given his failure to contest the final in his preferred event.

Those experiences inspired the title of his biography, 'The Solo Runner', which captures different aspects of Makwala's life and reflects on where he grew up, his family and track achievements.

One chapter has 28 pages dedicated to London 2017, a period Makwala describes as the worst in his track career.

"I think my sad moment was the 2017 World Championships," he wrote. "I went to the games ready! I was at the top.

"Everything came crumbling down! It was my first time crying."

At the time Makwala insinuated that his withdrawal from the race was to make it easy for Van Niekerk to win, which the South African duly did, with their friendship now back on track after a brief hiatus.

Van Niekerk is the only African to have ever run faster 400m times than Makwala, who is still convinced that the title was his for the taking.

"I was in position to win that 400m gold medal because I had run sub-44s four times - that was my best year no matter what happened at the World Championships," he told the BBC.

In 2017, Makwala won the 400m Diamond League title for the only time in his career.

Eugene dream

Five years on, the former African record holder will line up for his sixth World Championships hoping to sign off in perfect fashion.

While the gold may remain as elusive as it did five years ago given his age, a place on the podium would be a perfect farewell.

"Winning a medal at the World Championships will mean a lot to me," he said.

"But it is going to be tough, especially because it's happening in America. The American athletes will have home advantage and I always see how they run fast times on home soil."

As he storms down the final straight and across the finishing line of his career, Makwala - who led Botswana to an African record in the 4x400m relay as he earned his first and only Olympic medal (a bronze) in Tokyo last year - is happy with the timing of his decision.

"I don't want to retire when I'm depressed and with people saying 'He is finished' and telling me many words like this. I want to retire in top shape. That's what I'm planning to do."

Makwala's 'heart is still broken' after missing 400m final

The face of sprinting in Botswana for many years, it appears Makwala has done a good job of inspiring the next generation, given that the current Under-20 men's world 100m and 400m champions - Letsile Tebogo and Anthony Pesela - are compatriots.

Both will make their senior World Championships debut in Oregon, where Makwala will hand over the figurative baton.

"I feel good when I see all these athletes in Botswana doing well, because most of them have seen me do it - so that's why they are doing this now," he smiles.

"I'm happy even now I'm retiring, as I know I've made a mark in my career and a mark for other upcoming athletes."

As he prepares for the final laps of his career, Makwala will run in both the 200m and the 400m in Oregon and says he will walk - or sprint - away from the sport content.

"It wasn't a smooth journey because to be successful, I had to jump many hurdles, but the one thing I told myself was that I was never going to give up on this," he said.

"I wanted to see myself among the best 400m in the world, and that's exactly what I did. I don't think I'm going to have any pressure because this is my last year in competitive running, and I've proved everything.

"It doesn't matter whether I run good or I ran bad, it's my last season so I have to enjoy it."

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