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Akani Simbine: South Africa’s Golden Hope Reigning Over the 100 Meter Race Track

South Africa may just well be looking at its next 100m global star. Akani Simbine blew away the USA and Canadian sprinters, Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grass – esteemed runners who won silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics respectively – to win the men’s 100m in 9.99 at the opening of the IAAF Diamond League 2017 season in Doha, Qatar over the weekend.

Reigning champion and former world record holder, Asafa Powell finished in second place with 10.08 while Qatar’s Femi Ogunode came third in 10.13.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”That win means everything because it sets us up for the season,”[/perfectpullquote]

Simbine’s coach Werner Prinsloo said while celebrating the win in East Rand, east of Johannesburg, where Simbine is originally from.

“Running that distance in 9.99 seconds against that wind says a lot about his shape.

“I know the other guys have just started their seasons and are still finding their feet, but he beat them convincingly and you can’t beat someone who’s got an abundance of confidence. That means we’re closer to the podium finish we want at the World Championships.”

He took home the maximum eight points to kick off a good campaign.

Simbine is not entirely new to the tracks. His arrival could not match Usain Bolt’s reign at the time he appeared on the scene. In addition, Gatlin and De Grasse were each respectively marking their territory while unsuccessfully trying to dethrone Bolt.

Now Simbine may have just gladly put a new and hopefully glowing face to the future of South Africa’s athletic dominance, in addition to the likes of Wayde van Niekerk and reigning 800m queen, Caster Semenya.

The Rio Olympics was a promising take-off for the 23-year-old whose career has hit a steady progress. Despite finishing outside the medal bracket, he managed to come from injury setbacks months before the Games, to finish in a respectable fifth place.

2017 however, presents a whole other story not only for the South African’s achievements but with Bolt set to retire after this year’s summer IAAF World Championships in London, the 100m also known as ‘the world’s fastest race,’ could become a competitive spectacle putting Simbine in the spotlight and possibly the next runner to fill the soon-to-be vacant role.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I came here with confidence that I want to be the guy to take it on from Bolt,”[/perfectpullquote]

said Simbine after brushing aside a decorated field of runners.

“Coming out here, racing against those guys and coming out first showed me that I can actually do it. It’s not a big dream – it’s something that I can do.”

He becomes the first South African man to win a Diamond League 100m race which is no surprise considering that he set a new record on home soil in March of this year with an astonishing time of 9.93, to become the fastest man in South Africa. The latter is also the quickest time run anywhere in the world this early in the season, with no athlete having run faster than 9.94 before April.

On another impressive note, Simbine controls the top 10 fastest times in the world this year, recording five of the eight fastest with the Doha win making it his sixth sub-10 second performance of the season.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“The fact that he can run sub-10s means that, at the moment, he’s in the top five in the world. He’s running them comfortably so he’s not on a plateau… He’s at a level where he’s comfortable and if he needs to push it into the 9.8s bracket, he can,”[/perfectpullquote]

coach Prinsloo added.

He has broken 10 seconds a total of six times this year and nobody else has done it more than once.

The 200m is also not a far off achievement for Simbine who after opting to add another category at the same event in March held in Tuks Stadium in Pretoria, went on to beat his personal best in 19.95, 0.21 seconds faster.

This places Simbine as the second South African after Van Niekerk’s achievement last season, to smash the sub-10 and sub-20 mark but is the first SA athlete to break both barriers on the same day.

“It was my personal best in the 200m so it’s great,” he said in a March interview in PressReader.

While he currently recuperates back at home before proceeding to his European training base in Italy in preparation for his race in Boston and Jamaica next month, the 23-year-old’s sights are set on the Championships in London in August.

“Last year I was 0.02 seconds away from my medal. My short-term goals also include improving my SA record in the 100m, running faster in the 200m and challenging for a medal in the 200m,” he added.



Featured photo: Akani Simbine (L) beats Justin Gatlin (C) and Asafa Powell (R) to win the 100m gold at the opening of the Diamond League season in Doha, Qatar over the weekend. (Getty Images)

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