CAPE TOWN - Akani Simbine may not be the fastest South African over 100m in 2021 at the moment, but that doesn't mean that he will be chasing a quick time at the Rome Diamond League meeting tonight.
The South African champion and record holder produced a 9.99 seconds at the SA championships in Pretoria in April, which was his best legal time for the year so far.
Of course, he also ran a blistering 9.82 in the semi-finals of the national champs, but that time wasn't recognised because of an illegal wind speed.
That means the 2016 Rio Olympic finalist is trailing his good mate Gift Leotlela, also a Tuks athlete, at the moment, as the latter clocked 9.94 to win the SA universities title in Johannesburg a few weeks ago. Simbine's SA record is 9.89, which he set in 2016.
The 27-year-old has been hard at work in training in Gemona, Italy, over the last couple of weeks, and is building up slowly in order to peak at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We are excited to race again in Europe. It just gives the feeling of the real prep has now began. Training has been good,” Simbine's coach, Werner Prinsloo, told Independent Media from Rome yesterday.
“He hasn't raced in over six weeks since SA's (national championships) in April, so we don't have expectations of times. Just to get on track and put a good race together (is the goal in Rome).”
Simbine has good memories of the Rome Olympic Stadium, having triumphed last year in a quick time of 9.96 seconds.
But he will face serious competition tonight, with American star Mike Rodgers – who has the fastest personal best in the field of 9.85 – Ivorian Arthur Cissé, Liberian Emmanuel Matadi and Chijindu Ujah of Great Britain part of a strong line-up.
There are two other South Africans also participating in Rome: 400m national champion Zakithi Nene, and women's 400m hurdler Wenda Nel.
Nene will feel confident going into his race, as he has the second-quickest 2021 time in the field, 45.03 seconds, but he will be pushed all the way by Colombia's Anthony José Zambrano (44.57) and Machel Cedenio (45.37) of Trinidad and Tobago.