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Explosive Gift Leotlela 'just wants to race again’ ahead of Tokyo Olympics

FILE - Gift Leotlela crosses the finish line. Photo: Varsity Athletics

FILE - Gift Leotlela crosses the finish line. Photo: Varsity Athletics

Published Jun 3, 2021


CAPE TOWN – Did you know that Akani Simbine is not the fastest South African over 100m in 2021?

That honour currently lies with Gift Leotlela, whose 9.94 seconds at the SA university championships in Johannesburg last month is the quickest by a local athlete – compared to Simbine’s 9.99 at the national championships.

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The 9.94 is also the joint-fourth fastest in the world this year, alongside two Americans in Ronnie Baker and Jo’Vaughn Martin.

Three other US sprinters have gone quicker: Trayvon Bromell is on top with 9.88, followed by Isiah Young’s 9.89 and Fred Kerley’s 9.91.

These are the legal times, of course, with Simbine’s astonishing 9.82 and Shaun Maswanganyi’s 9.87 ruled out by illegal wind readings above +2.0m/s.

Leotlela was also a “victim” of a strong wind, having clocked 9.94 at the SA championships, but with a +3.6m/s wind. But he got the same time with a +1.3m/s at the student event to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The 23-year-old has now made his way to Europe, and kick-started the SA contingent’s campaign on the continent ahead of the Olympics in Montreal, France, on Tuesday night.

He finished third in 10.19 seconds, trailing the winner, Arthur Cisse of the Ivory Coast, who was victorious in 10.11, while Mouhamadou Fall of France came second with 10.16.

Leotlela was disappointed with his time, but glad to get his first race out of the way. “It was an okay race. I didn’t execute well, and I was under pressure from the start as I was thrown off by the quick starter on my right,” the Pretoria athlete told Independent Media from France.

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“And I was just chasing the whole race. But I enjoyed the experience – it was a good way to start a European campaign.”

The Tokyo Games will actually be Leotlela’s second Olympics, after he qualified for the 2016 Rio event as an 18-year-old in the 200m.

He has had to battle with a number of injuries over the last few years, and only really started running competitively again this year after a knee problem. His hard work has paid off, as not only did he produce the 9.94 time, but he was also part of the Team SA 4x100m relay quartet that won the gold medal at the World Athletics Relays in Poland in early May.

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Leotlela won’t be participating in the 200m this year as he is concentrating on the 100m, and he will be back on the track at a meeting in Marseille, France, on Tuesday.

“My body is feeling great. I just want to race again. Me and my coach (Hennie Kriel) decided we will no longer do 200m this year, we will focus on that for next season,” he said.

And what about another duel with Simbine, who beat him at the SA championships?

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“Lol, I don’t know! If the African Seniors Champs are still on, then I will definitely face him there,” Leotlela said.

The African Championships, which take place in Lagos, Nigeria, from June 23-29, are unlikely to feature any of the SA athletes in Europe due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions that require a 10-day quarantine.

So, Leotlela may only take on Simbine at the Tokyo Olympics again.

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