JOHANNESBURG – Auditions for the role as Usain Bolt’s replacement have already opened and South Africa’s Akani Simbine has proven to be a major contender among the potential challengers.
The next two months or so would provide a few dress rehearsals ahead of Bolt’s final curtain call at the IAAF World Championships in London in August.
Simbine fired the first shot when he raced to his maiden 100m Diamond League victory in Doha almost a fortnight ago.
He beat a world-class field which included former Jamaican world-record holder Asafa Powell, Olympic podium finishers Justin Gatlin of the United States and Canadian Andre de Grasse.
“It is an opportunity with Bolt going out and I say I am here to take the spot, I already put my hand up for that spot, I believe in myself, I believe in my talent, and I believe in the team around it,” Simbine said at a sponsorship announcement on Monday.
“I can back myself up when I get to the track, and I can face big names and make sure I come out on top there.”
The 23-year-old Simbine will have another opportunity to claim a big-name scalp when he races former Jamaican world champion Yohan Blake in at the Adidas Boost Boston Games on June 4, where world 400m record-holder Wayde van Niekerk will race in the 200m.
Simbine finished fifth in the Olympic 100m final behind silver and bronze medallists Gatlin and De Grasse respectively while Blake dipped ahead of him in fourth place.
“A lot of the guys that will be left in the sport will try and take that spot, we have three guys that were in the final that will be competing in probably the next two or three Olympics,” he said.
“It is probably going to be us three going up against each other all the time and against those other two guys, I want to come out on top.”
Simbine was on Monday unveiled as a friend of Mercedes-Benz South Africa ahead of his departure to his European base in Gemona, Italy.
While the season will come to a climactic end at the World Championships, Simbine will have a blinder of a date when he lines up against Bolt at the JN-Racers Grand Prix in Kingston on June 10.
Simbine will be looking to ride the wave of his early-season form which has seen him dip below 10 seconds six times already this year while boasting the second fastest time this year with the 9.92 he clocked at the Gauteng North Championships in Pretoria in March.
“I took down pretty big names in the sport (in Doha) and I think I am on the right track to where I want to be at the end of the year,” Simbine said.
“I’ve consistently run under 10 seconds, I have won my first Diamond League, I have become the first South African to win a 100m Diamond League and I want to continue with that.”
After his Jamaican sojourn, Simbine will return to the István Gyulai Memorial in Budapest, Hungary on July 4 where he set the South African record of 9.89 last year.
Simbine will double up in the meet lining up in the 200m looking to improve on the half-lap personal best of 19.95 he set in Pretoria in March.
“That race has special memories for me, the SA record was big, but beating Powell for the first time was the real breakthrough,” Simbine said.
“I always knew I could do it, but now the rest of the sprinters know it too. Maybe I can break the record there again, I know I can go as low 9.8.”