DOHA – South Africa’s Akani Simbine is among the contenders for the title of fastest man on the planet in 2019 when the world's top sprinters line up to race the 100m from Friday at the IAAF World Championship in Doha.
Tuks (University of Pretoria) sprinter Simbine’s time of 9.93s for the 100m at the London Diamond League meeting ranks among the top five fastest this season.
His coach, Werner Prinsloo, however, is hesitant to take anything for granted.
"As it is a World Championship, anything can happen,” said Prinsloo. “A relative unknown athlete can run the race of his life and win the title. There is also a real chance of one athlete clocking a fantastic time. Then again, at a championship like this, it is not always about times, it will be all about medals.
"Akani had his breakthrough during last year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games when he won the 100m. It was the first time he medalled at a significant event. The challenge now is to step up to the next level.”
According to Prinsloo, Simbine was quite frustrated after he had raced in Berlin and Zurich.
"He lost confidence in his own ability to keep up with the other sprinters after 60 metres. In the past, catching up and out-sprinting his rivals used to be one of his strengths. Suddenly, he is the one being left behind during the latter stages of a race.
"Over the last four weeks, our primary focus has been to restore his top-end speed. I think we have succeeded in doing so.”
Prinsloo emphasises there is never an easy race at a World Championship.
"During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Akani learned the hard way that you can't rest on your laurels, even when running the heats. He only managed to qualify for the semifinals as one of the fastest losers.
"The semifinals are usually the big fight as only the top two athletes automatically qualify for the final.”
Prinsloo tips Christian Coleman (USA), who has clocked the season's fastest time of 9.81s, as one of the pre-race favourites.
"Coleman has been consistently fast over the last two years. Whether he has the temperament to be a championship winner, however, remains to be seen.
"Justin Gatlin (USA) can never be written off as he is an old hand in sprinting. He has a lot of experience. Canada's Andre de Grasse seems to get faster each time he races, while Zharnel Hughes (Britain) is always a contender.”
As for the heat factor, Prinsloo said when they arrived in Doha at 01:00 the temperature was still 31 degrees Celsius. It is predicted that during midday it could soar to as high as 39 degrees Celsius.
"Luckily, the athletes only compete late afternoon, but we still need to be smart with our time management when training and warming up for races. If an athlete is out in the sun for too long, energy levels get drained quite quickly.”
The 100m heats start at 18:15 (SA time) on Friday.