The biggest problem in world class sprinting is that the men and women, trained every so carefully, make it look too easy. Take Akani Simbine, for example. 32 sub 10 second 100 meters since his first in 2015, and the guy has come within the length of a hair to a global medal. South Africa’s most consistent male sprinter is oh so close to getting that global medal he wants and desires so badly.
Deji Obeyingbo, in his Friday piece, sent us this. I am a day behind posting as we had some server upgrades to contend with and dear brother and I were trying to manage that lovely challenge.
Enjoy this piece, and look forward to Deji’s weekly two pieces again next week!
Akani Simbine, photo courtesy of British Athletics
What next for Akani Simbine after his disappointment on the World stage?
Getting a medal on the world stage has always eluded South African sprinter, Akani Simbine, despite a glittering CV that has seen him claim medals at the Commonwealth stage, African scene, and the Diamond League level. And now, following his non-podium finish at the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, the 28-year old might just be wondering what he needs to do next to become a world champion or an Olympic Champion.
Is his system experiencing an outage at the biggest stage of all? Does he lose form when he comes toe-to-toe with some of the big boys? Something definitely is happening to Simbine and he needs to find a solution to it going to next season, with the World Championships seven months away offering him another opportunity to right the wrong.
Even the best of track athletes has had their own vices in the sport. Usain Bolt false- starting at the World Championships in 2011, Asafa Powell not winning a global medal despite clocking the most sub-10 seconds in history.
The list goes on. In fairness, at the early stages of his career, he came up against athletes like Bolt, Gatlin, and the precocious Andre De Grasse. Regardless, with age, something had to give. He garnered more experience and lowered his personal best. It’s only natural he complements it by winning a global medal. Yet, that still eludes the South African.
“It sucks. For me, I just wanted to be on the podium. It’s been five years of just missing out and now it’s another year and another year to miss out on a podium.” Simbine said that this would motivate him even further as he eyes Paris 2024.
Interestingly, Simbine was the highest-ranked sprinter heading into the final in Tokyo but he came unstuck once again as he clocked 9.93s. “It wasn’t too crazy, it’s a bit of the norm. Anything can happen in a final and the best man won,” Simbine told reporters after the race.
The same dream eluded him by milliseconds five years ago at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Then, many observers were able to cut him some slack as he made his debut then. Still, the same mistakes and results wore their ugly head this year again.
Ramped in between those Olympic disappointments came fifth-place finishes (10.01s) at the London 2017 World Champs and a fourth-place finish (9.93s) in Doha two years later. He became the nearly-man. One, in spite of his consistency throughout the season usually bottles it up on the biggest of the stage.
Maybe it’s the pressure, the opposition, his form, it’s tough to put a finger on what makes Simbine lose his edge at crucial moments of his race.
“It wasn’t too difficult, I had to run my own race. At the end of the day, I can only control my race,” he said. “I did the best I could in that situation. I’m a bit disappointed, but I still have that fire in me to get on that podium.”
Simbine went into the Olympics buoyed by his newfound status as the fastest African ever in the 100m after he shaved 0.01s off the previous continental mark held by Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba.
The 28-year-old set a new African record of 9.84 seconds at the Gyulai IstvÃ¡n Memorial meeting in Hungary on 6 July, launching him into 12th place on the world all-time list. Simbine clipped five hundredths off the previous PB he clocked on the same track a month before Rio 2016.
That moment felt surreal for Simbine since he’s been the only African sprinter to have lurked around Fasuba’s record, and breaking it felt like getting the monkey off his back. It was on that premise many felt he should have at least gotten on the podium in Tokyo.
Simbine’s bearing since Rio did suggest that this year was his time to shine. With over 30 sub-10 clocking over the 100m, he had established himself as arguably the favorite, with defending World Champion Christian Coleman out of the games.
Since breaking through the magical barrier in 2015, Simbine has posted 32 legal sub-10 seconds times. He has been among the world’s top-10 fastest men in the short sprint every year since his breakthrough in 2016.
Make no mistake, running sub-10 seconds over the 100m these days isn’t the best gauge to determine your progress or catapult you into a podium finish at a major champ especially with some of the best sprinters consistently running inside 9.85s. Fred Kerley, Larmont Marcell Jacobs, Treyvon Bromell, Coleman, and even more recently, Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala are some of the sprinters to have dipped inside that time.
Simbine has only run two legal sub 9.9s in his career. Though rather worryingly, he himself admits he needs to turn on the afterburners going into next year’s global showpiece.
“I believe I have that gear in me, it’s not about finding the gear. It is within me,” Simbine said.
“I know I can bring it out, and I just need the races to bring it out. I already ran a 9.8, although it was wind-aided, it is in my legs. I believe I can do it again, and I can compete against the Americans that have run 9.8. It’s one of those things I am confident about, and I know I can do it when it matters.”
In all of this, Simbine has also been instrumental in his country’s recent relay successes anchoring South Africa to the silver in the 4x200m, and gold in the 4x100m at the 2019 and 2021 World Relays. That to an extent is enough motivation for him, but he needs to do more individually.
Like a lion who has been lurking around for a prey to eat with many getting past him, Simbine knows time is not on his side. The swagger he used to step on the track with might no longer scare rivals, but he needs to lay down his gauntlet sooner rather than later. Patience and confidence in his abilities are factors he should never doubt.
This is Deji Ogeyingbo. Deji is writing for @runblogrun on Nigerian Athletics and Global Athletics.