SA athletes leave Jamaican sprint superstar in the shade

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Robson Sharuko

Harare – The first Commonwealth Games 100 metre showdown after the retirement of Usain Bolt did not produce a Jamaican winner but the gold medal in Australia’s Gold Coast was mined by a 25-year-old South African sprinter who loves Twitter and rap music.   

The script writers told the world that the gold would go to Yohan Blake, finally freed from the shadows of his great countryman, who waved goodbye to a race which he dominated like no other man had ever done since the great Jesse Owens of the United States.

They say the men’s 100 metres race is the flagship battle in athletics given that it carries the fancy tag of the fastest man in the world to whoever emerges triumphant in the short burst for honours.

On the 10th anniversary of the year when Bolt, considered by many as the greatest sprinter of all-time, announced his arrival on the big stage with his double gold victory in the 100m and 200m at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the world watched the first titanic succession battle at the Commonwealth Games.

Of course, the Club Games do not feature the Americans – Justin Gatlin, the controversial 100m world champion who defeated Bolt in his farewell appearance in this race at the IAAF World Championships in London last August and Chris Coleman, who finished second in that showdown.

Until Gatlin produced his vintage sprint to become world champion in London, Coleman, a 21-year-old prodigy whom some believe will be the next superstar over this distance, had been the only man to beat Bolt in this race since 2013.

Coleman also arrived at the World Championships as the fastest man in the world after clocking 9.82 seconds in the 100m race at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon in the United States, in 2016.

Bolt, who finished third in his farewell 100m race, had cast a huge spell over his rivals in this distance for a decade and is the world record holder in the 100m and 200m, an eight-time Olympic champion and 11-time world champion.

Without the Americans, it can be argued that the field at the Club Games did not  feature some of the best sprinters in the world and, for good reason, the 100m world champion and the 100m silver medalist were both not eligible for this show.

But, it had a Jamaican sprinter whom many feel could now explode into prominence given that the shadow of the great Bolt has been cast away into retirement and many tipped Blake to win the Club Games title.

Instead, it went to a South African sprinter, Akani Simbine, who is prominent on Twitter and loves rap music and who also believes it is his destiny to become a great athlete.

“This year I just want us all to do great things! Set goals and achieve them! Let’s all shine & head straight to the top,’’ Simbine tweeted on January 4.

And, this week at the Australian Gold Coast, he delivered by leading a South African one and two in the 100m race.

“What an incredible night! Thank you for all the messages. I am truly humbled! Still hasn’t sunk in . . . maybe when I wake up tomorrow I’ll realise it is not a dream. #100mGold! We did it,’’ he said on Twitter.

Of course, there was the case of Bolt sending an inspiration message to Blake to believe in himself on the eve of the race.

Blake revealed he received an Instagram message from Bolt that said, “I believe in you,’’ just before the race.

But that all counted for nothing for the 2011 world champion and dual Olympic sprint silver medallist.

Blake was the youngest world champion ever when he won gold in the 100 m at the 2011 World Championships, which he followed with a silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the 100m and 200m races for the Jamaican team.

Only Bolt has run faster than him in both the 100m and 200m and has been a long-time training partner of the great Jamaican.

However, in the first race without Bolt’s overpowering presence, Blake choked and was beaten by the rising South African star, who clocked 10.03 seconds to win the Club gold in the 100m.

Another South African sprinter, Henricho Bruintjies, took the silver while Blake had to settle for bronze.

It was South Africa’s first gold in the event and Simbine told The West Australian newspaper he feels he can consistently be the world’s fastest man.

“It’s been coming for the past four years,” Simbine said.

“It means a lot to me to get this medal because it’s something I knew I could do. Now I’ve got an international title and I’ve got an international medal, it’s motivation to do more and more and keep bettering myself.

“I had 90 percent belief in myself and that 10 percent was holding me back. Now I have that 100 percent belief. If I keep working and stay humble, everything else will come together.

“It was an amazing feeling and I’m really happy with myself being a Commonwealth champion. For me, this is probably my best achievement so far.

“I am placed fifth at the Olympics, fifth at the World Championships, but this is my first international title.”

Bruintjies ran 10.17s for the silver medal and had the satisfaction of being part of an historic night for South African sprinting when they combined to relegate a Jamaican superstar into the shadows.

“I told Akani yesterday I knew he was going to go out fast and go for big things,” he said.

“I said ‘brah, you’re going to take me to the podium’.”

These are certainly exciting times for South African athletics with a number of athletes making their presence felt around the globe.

Wayde van Niekerk stunned the world when he broke the world record for the 400m at the Olympic Games in Brazil two years ago while Caster Semenya has been a consistent performer on the international scene.

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