Gift Leotlela became the sixth South African sprinter to dip under 10 seconds over 100 metres when he won in 9.94sec during the USSA Championships in Johannesburg.
It means he has also qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games. ‘It feels amazing,’ an elated Leotlela said mere moments after he crossed the finish line. When told his time was legal, Leotlela could only utter, ‘Wow … wow’.
During the South African Championships, he also dipped under 10 seconds running 9.94, but unfortunately, the wind from behind was too strong.
According to the Tuks sprinter, he realised that he had a good race in his legs after running his semi-finals. He had clocked 10.02. The wind from behind was quite strong.
‘I had good start in my semi-final. Over the latter stages of the race, I purposely slowed down to save my legs. In the final, my only goal was to ‘execute’ my technique to perfection. I again had a good start. Then it was a case of running flat out until I crossed the finish line.’
Two weeks ago in Poland, Leotlela was part of the South African 4x100m-relay team that won gold during the World Relays Championships.
The Tuks sprinter definitely got one of the best comeback stories to tell.
Up to 2017, he seemingly could do no wrong. He kept setting personal best times. He had set a new South African 100m junior record, clocking 10.12s. During the national championships in Potchefstroom, he finished third behind Wayde van Niekerk and Simbine, running 20.20s in the 200 metres. It was also a personal best.
During the 2016 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, the Tuks sprinter won a silver medal in the 200m (20.59). He was fourth in the 100m (10.28). He had qualified in the 200m to compete at the Rio Olympics. Being 18 years and two months old meant he was the youngest track and field athlete to represent South Africa.
But he started to get injured. First, he was sidelined by a lower back fracture. Then his hamstrings began to act up. November last year, he tore the tendons in his knee. So this is really the first season in nearly four years that he is fully fit.
The South African 100m-record holder Akani Simbine was already impressed by Leotlela when he raced against him in March during the Gauteng North Championships.
‘It is great to have Gift back and to be racing against him. He has the potential to become one of the greats,’ is what Simbine said.
The six sprinters to have dipped under ten seconds are Akani Simbine (9.89), Wayde van Niekerk (9.94), Henricho Bruintjies (9.97), Thando Roto (9.95) and Simon Magakwe (9.98).
Photo: Reg Caldercott