The tattoos down Anaso Jobodwana’s left arm tell the story of a tough time in his life when the world started crumbling beneath his feet, writes GARY LEMKE. Four years ago he was on the brink of having it all. Then it started to go wrong.
There’s that iconic image of the South African running in the lane next to the great Usain Bolt at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, the pair smiling at each other as they cross the line in the semi-finals. Jobodwana, then 23, was on the rise, already an Olympian from 2012 and at the forefront of the South African sprinting revolution.
He followed up that run with a national record 19.87sec in the final, taking the bronze with Bolt claiming gold and Justin Gatlin the silver. It was all set up for a rematch at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Instead, Jobodwana crashed out in the heats in an alarming upset. The tattoos came in 2016.
The first one runs from the left wrist upwards. It says, ‘Aim to be exceptional’. Self-explanatory perhaps. ‘It’s like a rounded-up mission statement,’ Jobodwana told me ahead of his African Games 200m event which starts on Wednesday in Rabat. ‘Not just exceptional in winning, in bad times as well. Bad things happen and it’s a case of understanding they do.’
Then there’s the tornado at the top of the left arm. ‘Logically a tornado represents the weather, more so the unpredictability of the weather … once it happens, once it starts moving around, it destroys everything in its wake.
‘It encapsulates 2016 for me, the injuries I picked up and the disappointment at the time. It’s a matter of understanding that life can be going swimmingly well one day and the next day the tornado arrives and destroys everything. It’s also about also keeping calm in the eye of the tornado and knowing that, at the end of the day everything gets rebuilt. It puts things into perspective.’
Another on the left arm is an hour glass. ‘This represents the brevity of life and the shortness of time and being able to use the time we have,’ he said. ‘When I was younger my cousin’s son got killed on Christmas Day … he was young and bubbly. The hour glass reminds me to use my time effectively … you don’t know what’s going to happen the next day.’
On the inside of the left forearm is Apollo, one of 12 Olympian gods who lived on Mount Olympus. ‘I chose him because I wanted to put it with the Olympic rings. His weapon of choice is an arrow, which I like. The Japanese associate archery with zen and with an arrow being pulled pack, before it is released, it is like life pulling you back. But it’s always being pointed at a target, and eventually it will be released and hit that target, if you can manage to stay calm.’
The Durban-based athlete is in Morocco where he is hoping for an ‘A’ qualifying standard in the 200m with the hope of again scaling the heights at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
‘Realistically, it might be tough for me here in Morocco. I’ve run one good race this season and the rest have been sub-standard for me. I’ve rested for 10 days, trying to see where I’m at. I’m actually not that sure how I’m going to shape up.’
Jobodwana admits that there has been a large degree of frustration in recent times. ‘Last year, the first part of 2018 was really good, but I’d been going since 2016, so my body couldn’t handle the rest of 2018. So, this year, in April, I started again from scratch. Last year I ran promising times early on, but when I went back to the US the coaching wasn’t gelling with the way which is best for me to train. It was probably last October that I realised it wasn’t working with the coach. When you’re younger you wait it out but, the older you get the less years you have, so I knew it wasn’t working and went on my own.
‘Last year I was training on my own, with no coach, basically going over my old training programme that had worked for me in the past. Everything should be about speed, from day one. I tell people that I don’t know everything but I can follow a programme and get myself into the shape where things are beneficial and build towards speed. This year I was doing a lot of long, slow stuff, some 27, 28 seconds for a slow 200, and do volume, like eight or 10 in a session. There was not enough speed work, consistent speed work, to get into top shape.
‘After Nationals in April I went back to Durban and when I got to Europe I had three races and sharpened up, running 10.17 for the 100 and 20.38 for the 200, but struggled to get next into a few meets, so when I did I was running fatigued. It was like a vicious circle.
‘But here I am unsure what results will come at these African Games. What I do know is that the sun will rise tomorrow and this time next year things will be all bright again,’ he said.
‘I still am ambitious but I’m also thinking ahead because I understand I’m not 21 or 22 anymore and I have limited time in track and field. But, I’ve still got goals to go to Tokyo and medal in the 200m there, so I’m really just focused on that.’