Sprinters Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies capped a champagne night for South African sport when they raced to gold and silver in the men’s 100-metre at the Commonwealth Games on Monday, writes MARK ETHERIDGE in Gold Coast, Australia.
Simbine’s gold came on top of swimming trio Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh and Tatjana Schoenmaker’s golds in the pool.
Running in lane seven, Simbine trailed Jamaican favourite Yohan Blake for the early stages but an explosive second half saw him even having time to raise a pumping victory fist high as he crossed the line at the Carrara Stadium.
He clocked 10.03 seconds with Bruintjies, running his first major international final, hot on his heels in 10.17 and Blake back in bronze.
‘It’s just an amazing feeling to come here for my country and be able to do this,’ said Simbine. ‘Thanks to my country, my coach and my family.’
Bruintjies was almost bemused, despite the big grin on his face. ‘I’m quite happy to get on to the podium in my first international race, actually it’s amazing, now I can work on getting up on to more podiums.’
The gold and silver immediately begged the question of whether SA’s 4x100m relay team can ride the wave of euphoria later in the Games.
‘Definitely, we can get gold,’ said Bruintjies. Added Simbine: ‘I’m going home with two golds for sure.
‘This is such a great achievement to get not one but two SA sprinters on to a podium at an event like this, something to really celebrate. I’m just hoping that this inspires the youngsters back home to get out and come to training in the belief that they can get to the stage where we are.’
Bruintjies was certainly an unknown going into the final with the stadium announcer battling to get the pronunciation of his name right. ‘I just made it into the final and now to step up on to the podium is also a big step up for me and although a lot of people haven’t expected this, I’ve always believed in myself.
Simbine said that it’s a ‘monkey off his back’ winning his first major championship race but for Bruintjies it was the other way around: ‘I feel like the monkey just jumped ON my back so now I must make sure I can do it again on the international scene.
As for the race itself, Simbine said: ‘I literally only really remember from the 60m mark. I got out and didn’t see anyone, then I saw myself move [on the stadium television screens] and then I didn’t see anyone else move and said, “I actually just won this race”.’
Bruintjies was on the outside looking in. ‘It’s so unusual to see two South Africans drawn next to each other in an international race. I knew he was going out fast and going for the podium and I was just thinking “take me Akani, take me!”’
What they can do, both of these superb athletes, is take a bow for making it a night to remember for South African sport which, right now, is on a high Down Under.
Almost forgotten after the late heroics was the fact that in the women’s 1500m heats, as expected, Caster Semenya proved to be in a class of her own as she strolled to a 4min 05.86sec victory.
The Rio Olympics bronze medallist did just enough to win as behind her, the field were left trailing. Seconds after her win, she was basically the only athlete on her feet as she strolled from runner to runner patting them on the back as they kneeled on all fours gasping for air.
Her time was less than 1.5sec off the Games record set by Kenyan Hellen Obiri in Glasgow, Scotland four years ago and it will take a brave person to bet against that record being around after Tuesday’s final, depending on whether Semenya wants to conserve energy for the 800m final.
‘The plan was to take command of the race and see how we run the splits. I’m happy with the splits, now we concentrate on the final. In the final, I want to see how close I can get to the SA record [Zola Pieterse’s 4:01:81 run in 1984].’
South Africa’s second day on the track had kicked off with silver and bronze medals for Dyan Buis and Charl du Toit in the men’s T38 100-metre final, the first track event of the evening programme.
The SA sprinters were left trailing by five-time Paralympic gold medallist Evan O’Hanlon, who sported a moustache so wide that the SA athletes in the lane on either side must have thought there was a bushy bullbar in front of them!
O’Hanlon won in 11.09 and Buis just dipped his training partner Du Toit on the line, their times 11.33 and 11.35 respectively. Du Toit had the satisfaction of running a world record, improving on the 11.41 he ran at nationals in Pretoria earlier this year.
‘He’s my brother from another mother,’ said Du Toit, referring to Buis, as he flashed his familiar smile.
‘We train and race together every day but this is our first international race and he really pulled me along, he’s in great shape right now.’
Said Buis: ‘I had a slow start but just stuck in there and dipped this guy on the line. It’s not a PB but a season’s best, it’s still nice to have especially as I’ve been training for the 400m for the last few years.’
The only field event of the evening saw Orazio Cremona in the shot put final. A late inclusion in Team South Africa, the hulk from Johannesburg had a best of 20.51m with his fourth throw of the evening.
He had opened with a 19.87 and then his final heave was 20.09 and he would have needed a further 29cm to bag the bronze.
Still, it was an improvement of 38cm on his last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, although he slipped back two positions.
‘It just wasn’t my night. Conditions were perfect, crowd were great but it just didn’t happen for me. A few technical issues that haven’t been here the whole season suddenly cropped up – so really “nice” of them to come now!
‘My rhythm just wasn’t great so it was good to get that 20.51 out there when things weren’t going too well on the night. Congrats to the guys who won the medals tonight.’
Asked what his plans were post-event, he took a brief moment before a big grin cracked across his genial face. ‘I’m going to go back to the village and eat pizza… a lot of pizza and then roll into bed and just chill, chat to the wife, chat to the family and then take about a week off training before we start it all over again.’
Photo: Bruintjies and Simbine all smiles after gold and silver, by Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA