CAPE TOWN – At the start of the 2020 season, Akani Simbine told his coach Werner Prinsloo that he is keen on competing in the 200 metres at the Tokyo Olympics.
But with Prinsloo wanting his star athlete to focus on the 100m, he made a deal with the 27-year-old sprinter – beat 9.95 seconds in 2020, and then you can have a go at the half-lap race.
Of course, Simbine has always wondered if he can become a world force in the 200m, and duly achieved his goal by clocking a quick 9.91 in Pretoria in March – just 0.02 off his personal best of 9.89, and setting the tone for hopefully a successful Olympic campaign in both sprint events.
But soon after that, Covid-19 forced South Africa to go into lockdown, and the immediate aftermath of that saw the national championships postponed, and most of the international season – with the Olympics eventually being postponed to 2021 as well.
Simbine did get on to an international track later in the year, going unbeaten in the 100m over four races across Europe in September – with times of 9.96 in Rome, and 10.19, 10.17 and 10.02 in Marseille, Rovereto (Italy) and Bellinzona (Switzerland) as well.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is now the big goal and Simbine said during a Laureus South Africa webinar on Wednesday night that despite the disrupted season, he is well set for next year.
“Right now, because I came off the European season, I’m on a short break – I’ve only been back for three-and-a-half weeks. I’m only going to start training and preparing for the 2021 Olympics next week – and from then on, I will be racing probably only from next year again, from March,” the Commonwealth Games champion said, following Athletics South Africa’s announcement that the sport can return to training and competition from November 1.
”So, my plan is to race as much as I can all over South Africa before I leave (for the international season).”
That 9.91 in March placed him third on the world list this year, behind Americans Michael Norman (9.86) and Trayvon Bromell (9.90). But a full season next year should see Simbine challenging his SA record of 9.89 in order to improve on his fifth-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
And then there’s the not-so-small matter of the 200m, where he could come face-to-face with 400m star and good friend Wayde van Niekerk. But there is also an off-track attraction to the Olympics for Simbine…
“My coach’s focus is on the 100 metres, and it’s my first love. I am very passionate about the 100 metres, and it’s THE event. If you make one single mistake, it’s all gone, and for me personally, I like perfection and want to run a perfect race every time. So, I will be running the 100 metres, but I will try to qualify for the 200 metres as well,” he said.
“(What Simbine is most looking forward to in Tokyo is) the Olympic Village – it’s the one place where you can just see everyone. In 2016, I was getting ready for the 100-metre semi-final and final, and when I left my room and walked, I saw Neymar in front of me.
“I was like ‘No way! This is Neymar, this is Neymar!’, but then I was like I need to focus, I need to focus. And then he got closer, and I was like ‘No, I won’t get this opportunity again’, and I asked ‘Yo, Neymar! How are you, what what what?’, and ‘It’s so great to meet you. I’m going to race now’ and he just said ‘Good luck’ – and he left.
“Being in the village and seeing all the stars that you watch and look up to – Serena Williams was in the village in 2016 – it’s just being around greats, and you learn from them.”