Akani Simbine Targets African Record In Nigeria
South African sprinter Akani Simbine has it all planned out. Going for gold at next year’s World Championships, clinching gold at Tokyo 2020 and filling the void left by Jamaican legend Usain Bolt.
The 24-year-old took his first big 100m title at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April ahead of team-mate Henricho Bruintjes and former world champion Yohan Blake.
With 2018 an ‘off-year’ in terms of global competition, Simbine’s big target is August’s African Championships in Asaba, Nigeria.
The event in Nigeria serves as qualifier for this year’s inaugural World Cup in London, and the 2019 World Championships.
But what is there to know about this South African who finished fifth at the Rio Games and the London 2017 worlds? Simbine ran quietly below ten seconds on eight occasions last year. He told the Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview, that he feels ready for the big stage.
Ready for the Big Time
Olympic Channel: How has your season been so far?
Akani Simbine: “This season has been quite a successful season for me. I started off the year with a Commonwealth gold medal and that was a goal for me since I started athletics.
We are not used to having a Championships at the beginning of the year, but being able to do that comes from the experience I’ve learned in the last couple of years.
I’ve done Olympic finals, World Champs finals, indoor finals. I’ve learned how to pace myself through the meets.”
OC: In what areas do you see your biggest improvements compared with last year?
AS: “I’ve become a better athlete. I’ve grown into the sports of athletics, into the sprinting world, into the 100m world. I’ve learned a lot in the last two years and it’s a journey that I’m still learning to find my feet in. My development has come for my whole race.
When I started athletics I wasn’t a really great starter, I had a lot of technical issues. So I’ve being working to improve my start, I’ve improved my top speed, I’ve improved my strength as well, I never used to be as strong as I am now.”
OC: What has been your biggest challenge?
AS: “Mentally, it’s been a really difficult time, just being put into a place where you are racing against guys you watched on TV.
It was a different space for me to be in, these are the guys you were idolising and looking towards and you are just asking yourself, ‘Am I good enough to be with them?’ and now you’re lining up against them.
Now I’m mentally stronger to handle the pressure to be in a race with Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin or Yohan Blake.
I’ve stopped seeing them as these guys who are untouchable and seeing them as guys I can line up against and give them a round for. So for me it’s an amazing time to be able to say I can fit in in an elite group of 100m sprinters.”
OC: What are your goals for the African Championships in Nigeria?
AS: “This year was going to be a difficult season because we had a Championships at the beginning of the season and we’re going to have another one at the end of the season, so I needed to find a balance in my preparation.
For me, African Champs is something I need to win. I’ve been touted as the fastest guy in Africa, but I don’t have that title and now I have an opportunity to go to an African Champs and make sure I get that title.
OC: Your personal best is only 0.05 seconds of Olusoji Fasuba’s African record of 9.85…
AS: “That’s a record I really want to take down. I’ve set myself big goals and I have set myself big time goals that I want to achieve in my career and just breaking the African record is something I believe I can do.
9.85 is really to close to where I can run and I believe that if the conditions are all right, I can run faster than that. It’s just a matter of taking the opportunity and taking full advantage of it.”
The Rise of African Sprinting
OC: African sprinters have really left their mark. Just to name a couple, Ivorian Marie Jose Ta Lou and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala have posted some great times. How do you explain this rise of African sprinting?
AS: “I think we are slowly believing in ourselves and our talent, not just saying, ‘OK, we can run but we’re not good enough to be Olympic champions or we’re not good enough to be on top of the world.’
We’re starting to believing in our talents, we’re starting to go to training believing we can be Olympic champions, world record holders, world champions.
I think it’s just a mindset change from the old generation to our generation. What has changed is that we mentally prepare ourselves for going for gold.”
OC: And how do you explain the fact that South African athletes have become so strong?
AS: “I think we want to show the world we can also show up at big competitions and show the world that we also have fast people, we have people that can challenge the rest of the world.
Speaking from my personal experience of our group and our generation, we are all feeding off each other, all our energies.
The first guy in our generation to win a medal was Anaso (Jobodwana) and the momentum started picking up from Anaso to Caster (Semenya), to Wayde (Van Niekerk), to me, to Luvo (Manyonga), to Ruswahl (Samaai)… we just feed off each other.
Everybody’s got good spirits between each other, we don’t mind sharing mental tactics or stuff that we need to do improve ourselves.
We are a group that is helping each other growing, we are all trying to go together and just move that athletics movement together.”
OC: Looking ahead to the future. What is your personal goal for Tokyo 2020?
AS: “It’s literally to go for the gold medal. We are working towards getting the gold medal for South Africa, making history for South Africa, being the first South African to be on the podium for the 100m at an Olympic Games, to win gold for South Africa at the Olympic Games.
For us it’s working towards getting a medal at the Olympic Games and making sure we are at the top of our game.”