JOHANNESBURG - Like a bolt out of the blue Thando Roto became South Africa’s second fastest 100-metre man when he clocked 9.95 seconds at the Athletics Gauteng North Championships last weekend.
Dipping below 10 seconds, he became the fifth South African to achieve this feat with the time also ranked the third fastest in the world so far this year, behind national record-holder Akani Simbine.
Roto and Simbine made history at the championships at the Tuks track in Pretoria when they became the first two South Africans to dip below 10 seconds in the same race.
Although he has always been a serious talent it seemed like Roto would be another 10.20secs sprinter but both he and coach Hennie Kriel knew the sprinting sensation was a time bomb waiting to explode.
Roto’s success has been anything but overnight, with the Eastern Cape-born athlete grinding his way to the magical mark.
Four years ago Roto’s personal best was a 10.53secs which he meticulously and painstakingly chopped down by 0.58secs.
Roto made a promising start to the season when he clocked a wind-assisted 9.98 seconds in Johannesburg which he followed up with a new personal best of 10.19secs in Potchefstroom at the beginning of March.
“It really gave me belief because before that I had a few niggles then I ran that sub-10 and I knew I could actually do it on a good day,” Roto said.
Last year was a turning point in the 21-year-old’s career when he ran two wind-assisted times of 10.15 seconds in Germiston and Salamanca, Spain respectively.
“I think it started back in 2015 during the off-season, I had a fairly good 2016 where I ran two 10.1s that were both wind-aided,” Roto said.
“So when I was selected for the African Championships and made the final there I realised I can run a sub-10 as most of the guys there ran sub-10s. I took the momentum into 2016’s off-season then I guess now it coming together.”
Roto grew up in Dimbaza near King William's Town, a stone’s throw away from world 200m bronze medallist and South African half-lap record-holder Anaso Jobodwana.
Drawing inspiration from Jobodwana, who featured in the final of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Roto is looking to etch out his own legacy on the South African sprinting landscape.
“I saw this guy from King William's Town, then I thought ‘ah, this guy is doing it big, I can also make it big’,” Roto said.
The mark of a good sprinter is dipping below 10 seconds but a world-class one is doing it regularly and when the pressure is on.
Narrowly beating Roto at the line, Simbine admitted his experience from the last few years gave him the edge.
Roto will be looking to reach the same level of consistency as the South African 100m record holder and that of former Jamaican world-record holder Asafa Powell, who has dipped below 10 seconds a record 98 times in his career.
“I want to some day make an Olympic final, get a medal, I want to be there and I want to be like Asafa Powell, week in and week out go sub-10,” Roto said.
“The goal at nationals is to go sub-10 again, maybe in the semis and finals I will be happy. I’m not there for the win, I am there for the sub-10 times.”