GABORONE (Reuters) - As a barefoot child, Amantle Montsho chased alongside galloping ostriches in the remote north of Botswana before being spotted as a future talent at a school athletics meeting.
Now, as the world 400 meters champion, she hopes to win in London and get her country's first Olympic medal.
Montsho grew up in poverty and with few resources and her success has helped to break social stigmas in her traditional society, where her passion for running was tolerated but women in sport are rarely encouraged.
She became the first female Olympian for the southern African country in Athens in 2004 and is heavily fancied for gold in her third Olympic appearance.
Montsho, who will turn 29 on July 4, hails from Maun, the centre of Botswana's burgeoning tourist industry but, with little sporting infrastructure, often had to travel the day's drive south to the capital Gaborone to train and compete in races.
Starting as a sprinter, and winning her national championship at 200m, she was persuaded that her long strides would be better suited for the full-lap race.
At the age of 20, she was selected for the All-Africa Games in Abuja and soon after was identified for assistance from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the Olympic Solidarity scholarship programs, which took her to Senegal to train. She still uses the west African country as her base.
Her Olympic debut in 2004 came despite not achieving the qualifying time but as a wild-card entrant. Four years later, she was a finalist in Beijing and at the end of 2008 she was recognized as Botswana's Sportsperson of the Year.
It was her dramatic win over Allyson Felix in Daegu last year that turned her into a national heroine, after she clung on to an early lead as the powerful American tried unsuccessfully to chase her down.
If Montsho comes home with a medal, it will crown a dream year for Botswana sport after the country's popular football team, the Zebras, qualified for the first time to play at the African Nations Cup finals.
Botswana, a country of just over two million people, is proud of Montsho's achievements.
"She is a beautiful soul," says Tuelo Serufho, chief executive officer of the Botswana National Olympic Committee.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town, Editing by Clare Fallon)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp