This feature, from Deji Ogeyingbo, is about South African star Akani Simbine. Deji asks outloud what is next for Akani Simbine. What do you think?
Is this the end of the road for Akani Simbine after losing his titles in 2022?
This was supposed to be the year Akani Simbine solidified his status as Africa’s greatest sprinter of all time, haven become the most consistent sprinter on the world stage over the last seven years. In that time frame, Simbine became the Commonwealth Games Champion and African Champion and reached the final of every major championship.
The natural progression entails he should finally snag a world title this year, but with the reverse the case, he ended up losing the two titles he held on to. It had been coming, really. Nobody was going to go unchallenged for that long, especially on a continent that has a long history of producing quality sprinters.
Ferdinand Omanyala had been knocking on the door since last year, especially after he took down Simbine’s African Record of 9.84 by lowering it to 9.77 at the Kip Kieno Classic. The Kenyan seemed to be on the rise and destined to reach new heights this year, with Simbine stagnant or declining. If there was any sprinter that was going to pose a big threat to him this year, it was his East African rival.
This year, Simbine’s greatest fears came to the fore as he not only lost his titles to Omanyala, his reign as the undisputed king of African Sprinting in the last half a decade came to a halt. And in an era where a huge conveyor belt of talent is coming onto the world stage, getting back to the top can seem daunting. Simbine surely isn’t a spring chicken at this stage as he knows the task ahead to get back his titles and reclaim his status, but it would come with a huge change.
Typical with most South African athletes, they start their season in early April, and Simbine, who had not lost on home soil in over seven years, entered a couple of races before he starts his European season. In three of these meets on his home turf this year, Simbine squared up against Omanyala at the ASA Athletics Grand Prix.
It was the second time they were locking horns against each other. Omanyala laid down the gauntlet with an astonishing victory in 9.98s from Simbine, who clocked 10.11s. Embarrassing as that defeat may be, Simbine knew he wasn’t in pristine shape as he had just opened his season less than a month before that race compared to Omanyala, who competed in the indoor circuit.
They both squared up again at the African Championships in Mauritius. This perhaps was the peak of their rivalry this year. Simbine knew his African title was on the line and gave it his all. As expected, they went through the motions in their heats, but it was in the finals they both turned on the afterburners and produced arguably the most keenly contested race of 2022.
Running side by side in the final, both sprinters ran the race of their lives so that nothing could separate them in the end. It was a photo finish that took almost five mins to decide who won. Omanyala was given the nod after they both clocked 9.93s (+4.5m/s), with the Kenyan nipping it by three thousand of a second. Despite taking the loss with a pinch of salt as he lost his African crown, Simbine took a lot of positives from it: Firstly, the competition will propel him to lower his time, and secondly, it was a springboard to push him to his peak ahead of the world championships in Oregon. Heading into Oregon, Simbine was on a mission to finally get a medal. He had reached finals in the 100m in 2017 and 2019. A step on the podium was his priority.
In Track Town, Simbine did the bare minimum: reach the final of the men’s 100m. But like the results of the last two editions, the top sprinters left him in his wake as he settled for fifth with a time of 10.01s. It was going to get worse for Simbine.
Less than a month after Simbine’s loss in Oregon, the 29-year-Old sprinter surrendered his Commonwealth Games 100m crown to Omanyala in Birmingham. The Kenyan got away faster and quickly opened a gap that neither Simbine nor anybody else in the field looked like closing before crossing the line in 10.02. Simbine clocked 10.13 to edge out Sri Lankan Yupun Abeykoon by one-hundredth of a second.
How did Simbine get here, though? It’s a question that would continue to ring a lot a in his mind. He was once untouchable. But in elite sports, getting to the top isn’t the most difficult part; remaining there is more herculean. 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.
We’ve seen sprinters get to their peak in their early thirties. Justin Gatlin and Asafa Powell are examples. Simbine shares similarities with them, especially in terms of consistency. However, he needs to find a new gear next season.