Cape Town - Akani Simbine rocked the 100m world on Monday night when he clocked a new South African record of 9.89 seconds at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial meeting in Hungary.
The 22-year-old is now ranked as the fifth-fastest man in the world this year, behind Americans Justin Gatlin (9.80) and Trayvon Bromell (9.84), as well as Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut (9.86) and Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt (9.88).
In an exclusive interview from his European training base in Gemona, Italy, Simbine takes us through Monday’s race, his goals for the Rio Olympics and how 400m world champion Wayde van Niekerk drives him to even greater heights.
How are you feeling at the moment, are you still buzzing about the record?
I’m really excited. I’m great. I’m very chuffed with myself, but I know that the job is not done - the job is Rio. I’ve got to stay focused now, get back to training and make sure that I’m ready for Rio.
Has the job just started now, as expectations and goals may change?
Goal-wise, not really, because I always knew that I could run this time - it was just a matter of me running it. And I had a few stumbles on the road here, but I knew that if everything goes well and I did everything right in my race, I would run a very fast time, and that’s what I did on Monday.
Will you ever forget July 18, 2016 and the unlikely setting of Szekesfehervar, in central Hungary?
Last year around this time, I ran the world student record, and now I ran the time on Monday. So it’s the favourite time of the year for me, I guess. July is a very good time for me.
Tell us about your celebration... or lack of it! You were standing around, looking lost!
I wasn’t even sure if I had won, and whether I placed. I don’t know what happened. When I saw Asafa Powell’s pink bib on my outside, I just kept going and going and dipped at the line, and when I looked at the board, the time was 9.91. I was like “Okay, that was probably Asafa”.Then when the results came up, I saw my name on top, I was like “Whoa, okay”, and when I saw 9.89, I thought “Oh, crap!” It was so surprising, very surprising as I never expected it. I surprised myself in the race.
Take us through the race - you had a good start…
Coming into the race, I’ve been working hard on my start and getting out of the blocks. I did that in the race - Kim Collins was in lane three and I was in lane two, so I knew he is good out of the blocks. So if I could get out of the blocks and keep my form, I needed to get into my running and then everything would go well.
What does it mean to you to beat Asafa Powell, Mike Rodgers and Kim Collins? What does such a race do to the mind or psyche, along with your time?
Beating guys who have been in the game and won medals, it is a milestone achievement for me and it takes me a few levels up, having raced them and won.
How much of a role did the training camp in June with Usain Bolt and Wayde van Niekerk in Jamaica play in your success?
It definitely played a role. Training and running with the greatest, the fastest guys to have run on the planet. I spoke to coach (Glen) Mills, and he picked up on a few things that I had to work on that would help me to run faster, and activate more muscles that would help me in my sprinting.It was just a blessing - going there and seeing their mindset and how they do things. It was amazing and I would go back if I had the chance again.
Has Wayde van Niekerk helped you with your mental approach, he seems quite driven and strong-willed, and you guys are good friends?
Most definitely. Seeing all the stuff that Wayde has done has also pushed me to get into that mindset of “I can do that myself, I can actually do great things” because Wayde is here and is my friend, and I have seen him do great things, so why can’t I do the same?I strive to achieve stuff that he has achieved and just learn from him. I have been learning. We always talk and encourage each other, and discuss our state of mind. Just being with Wayde and being around a guy like him has helped me be in the state of mind that I am in right now.
And having your coach Werner Prinsloo with you at the moment, how is he driving you?
Werner isn’t always able to be with me because of his work, so it’s great to have him here. He’s been a week with me here (in Gemona) and he will stay with me through to the Olympic Games.We saw last year when he spent a week overseas with me, I broke 10 seconds, and a week later, I ran 9.97. Now I ran a 9.8. It shows that having him around me is beneficial as I am getting faster.
Werner said you won’t be doing any more races in the build-up to Rio, why?
Right now, we are just trying to get the body to rest a bit. I will start to train today again. It’s just to add extra fuel to the tank and make it so that by the time we get to Rio, I’m well-rested.
Tell us about the 200m race on Monday and a new personal best of 20.16?
I took the 200m very seriously because I wasn’t sure about how I would handle the curve (bend). I knew that if my body wasn’t right, I would possibly be in trouble on the curve. So I got into the curve and once I was in the straight, I got into my running, I was just relaxed and just went through it.But I didn’t expect to run a PB (personal best) because I don’t train much for the 200m, and I am doing well in it. So I just want to run the 200m and get closer and closer to (a sub-20-second time).
You were not included in the South African team for the 200m at the Rio Olympics, and lodged an appeal. Have you had any feedback regarding the appeal?
We have made an appeal and they are still discussing it, so we are still waiting for them to get back to us. It really is mind-boggling how I can run the second-fastest time by a South African this year (behind Wayde van Niekerk’s 20.02) and still they don’t pick me. They claim that because I didn’t run the 200m at the SA nationals (as he had sustained an injury in the 100m final) and African Champs… I ran 20.29 in March, but they say I haven’t run a 200m since, and they were looking at form at a certain time. But I am getting back to form…
When do you leave for Rio?
I will go straight from Gemona. We leave here on August 4 (the Olympic 100m heats begin on August 13, with the final on August 14).
Do you think you have a realistic chance of a medal, or what is your goal for Rio in the 100m?
My first goal is to reach the final, and after the final, anything can happen. I feel that with the form I’m in right now, I can definitely contest for a medal and be one of the guys up there on the podium.
Have you pictured that moment yet of beating Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin?
Many times, many times! I have pictured it many times and thought about it, and if it’s my time, it’s my time. And nothing will stop that. So, we’ll see.