There was never any doubt in newly-crowned Commonwealth Games 100 metre gold medallist Akani Simbine’s mind that this was his time to shine, writes GARY LEMKE on Australia’s Gold Coast.
This is despite the overwhelming local view that Jamaican Yohan Blake was the man to take over the mantle of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. The local newspapers reported on Tuesday morning that the ‘New Bolt falters in sprint final shocker’ and ‘Flying South African spoils Jamaican party’. In fact, most Australian outlets repeatedly used the words ‘shock’ and ‘upset’ to describe the win. It had come in 10.03 seconds, with countryman Heinricho Bruintjies second in 10.17 and Blake third in 10.19.
Was it a shock to Simbine, who finished in sixth, one position behind Blake – who is officially the joint second fastest 100m sprinter in history – two years ago at the Rio Olympics?
‘No, it was not much of a shock. Not for me, my coach and my team. I knew I had to run the perfect race to come out on top, and that I had to put together my race and if I had a clean first 30 metres and then 60m. So, maybe for others it was a shocker, but not for me, my coach or my team.’
The South African admitted that he had actually gone to the office of the Sascoc president, Gideon Sam, earlier on in the day and the two had ‘made a deal’ that Simbine would win the gold. ‘We shook on it that I’d win,’ he said.
On show at the athlete’s village were medal winners from the previous day – para-swimmer Christian Sadie, double breaststroke gold medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker, swimmer Ryan Coetzee, para-athletes Dyan Buis and Charl du Toit along with Simbine and Bruintjies.
‘Many people will look and say that this 2018 Commonwealth Games has been a really good campaign. But, we haven’t come to the end. There’s more to come. I want to say “thank you” to all the federations who presented the best of their athletes. Sometimes people are skeptical about the selection criteria, but I say to everyone, “thank you for being with us and for the continuing support”.’
Sam also had a message for the athletes. ‘Thank you very much. You listened to the sports minister [Tokozile Xasa] who said that you must carry the country’s flag high and make the country proud.’
Bruintjies, considered a surprise silver medallist, said, ‘We weren’t focusing on Blake, just medals. I told myself to make sure I stick to Akani because if I do then I’ll get onto the podium. Very rarely do you see two competitors in a men’s 100m final at a major competition being drawn in the lane next to one another. So, thanks to Akani for helping me get onto the podium.’
Simbine revealed that he’d spoken with recovering 400m Olympic and world champion, and world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk. ‘I spoke to him and he wished me well. He is happy for the team and for the way we are bringing back the medals. He said he wished he was over here to help. This is an exciting time for South African athletics. There might be a void in the sport because of Usain’s retirement, but the stars will now be spread across track and field, in many disciplines. It will bring more people to the sport,’ Simbine added.
Both Simbine and Bruintjies will be an integral part of Team SA’s 4x100m men’s relay team, where they will be favourites to win the gold medal. ‘I’ll start off with the first leg… and I’ll make sure that when I hand over we have a lead that the others can finish off,’ joked Bruintjies. Or, perhaps he wasn’t joking.
Sam feels that it’s premature to call South Africa ‘the new Jamaica’.
‘To be dominant you have to test yourself over time,’ he said. ‘It’s expensive to compete on the circuit all the time, we need to involve our talent by competing all the time – alongside Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana, maybe go compete against those countries’ athletes in Nairobi, for instance. We’re halfway through in the cycle to Tokyo 2020, there is no time to waste. We need to get the show on the road, talk to coaches, swimmers, athletes. Tokyo is the next step.’
And all of a sudden, Simbine has loomed as a potential 100m Olympic champion, someone to fill the giant shoes of the great Usain Bolt.
Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images