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No Simbine-Gatlin showdown for Pretoria

Any hopes of seeing Rio Olympics 100-metre finalist Akani Simbine up against world champion Justin Gatlin on South African soil have been given a false-start.

It was announced on Thursday that American Gatlin would be in SA for the Athletics Grand Prix Series at Tuks Stadium, Pretoria on 8 March.

Rumours are that Gatlin specifically requested to race over the seldom-run 150m distance so as not to have to face the Tuks Athlete so early in the season.

Remember, at last year’s first Diamond League Meeting in Doha Simbine outsprinted Gatlin to win in 9.99sec and claim his first Diamond League gold medal.

It’s a pity that the two champions won’t compete against each other especially as the Tuks athletics track is known to be conducive to fast times andit is at high altitude. The two champions probably would have clocked some seriously fast times.

But Simbine’s coach, Werner Prinsloo, isn’t too fazed about his athlete not getting the chance to race Gatlin on his home track.

‘We’re not going to waste time thinking about what could have been. Akani will compete in the 100m at the Grand Prix meeting as it’s the distance in which he has set himself three major goals for the season.

‘He wants to medal at both the Commonwealth Games and the African Championships and also set a new Africa record over 100 metres. That means he will need to dip below 9.85. If he wins at the African Championships, he will also get to compete at the Continental Cup.’

Prinsloo said he had not made any serious changes in Simbine’s training programme. ‘In the past, we specifically focused on making sure that Akani is faster out of the starting blocks as he tended to lose out over the first 20m in major races. But that’s no longer a problem. If Akani has a good start, there are very few sprinters able to beat him.

‘At the moment it’s all about marginal gains for him to become a consistent sub 9.90 sprinter. So we’re working on a few small things in his technique. The nice thing about it not being an Olympic or World Championships year is that we can afford to experiment a bit to see what works and what not.’

Clarence Munyai is another of the top Tuks sprinters who won’t race Gatlin. According to coach, Hennie Kriel, he is also going to race the 100m.

Last year Munyai set a junior world’s best over the 300m running 31.61 in Ostrava in the same race that Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk ran a world best. Munyai also set a new South African junior 200m record, running 20.10s and won gold at the African Junior Championships in Algeria.

Thando Roto (TuksAthletics) who ran 9.95 last year and won a silver medal at the World Student Games is still recovering from an injury.

Picture of Simbine and Gatlin in Doha action last year courtesy of Karin Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images