Akani Simbine of South Africa, left, Christian Coleman of the US, centre, and Usain Bolt of Jamaica in the men’s 100m final at the 2017 World Championships in London. Photo: Franck Robichon/EPA

JOHANNESBURG – A heart-warming chat with retired sprint king Usain Bolt earlier this year helped Commonwealth Games 100m champion Akani Simbine to raise his game.

“Usain told me that I need to start believing in myself more and that he believes in me,” Simbine said this week.

“He advised me to run the way I normally run at home, and I would go on to do very well.”

Simbine is at the peak of his career, having recently clinched gold at the Commonwealth Games after defeating Jamaica’s Yohan Blake in the 100m sprint.

This is the first time that Simbine managed to beat Blake after two years of attempts. The Joburg sprinter qualified for the finals of major events for a number of years, but failed to make the podium until now.

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Simbine finished fifth behind Bolt Justin Gatlin (US) Andre de Grasse (Canada) and Blake – with all of them running impressive times of under 10 seconds.

“Each time I ran against Blake, I always believed that I would beat him, but he’s always had one up on me, so to beat him was a really great feeling,” he said.

“To beat the second-fastest sprinter in the world was really something, and it’s given me the world of confidence.”

A change in mindset also helped him reach his full potential.

“Just me getting in to my running and growing as a sprinter, and believing more in myself,” he said.

“That’s one thing I lacked. I have 95% belief in myself, but that 5% would hold me back.”

Simbine heaped praise on his coach, Werner Prinsloo.

“Working with Coach is amazing. He’s patient and understanding.

“We know each other well because he is my first and only coach, so it’s been an amazing journey growing together in this sport."

Now that Simbine is firing on all cylinders, he would have relished a race against Bolt, the fastest man in the world.

“I really wish that Usain was still running so that we could run together, and I could test myself against the very best. Also, he brings another kind of atmosphere to the track, and it’s something you don’t get to experience often.”

While it’s only been two weeks since Simbine’s gold medal win, the 24-year-old sprinter knows he doesn’t have much time to bask in his glory, with the IAAF Diamond League events looming.

The championships kick off in two weeks’ time. “Preparations are going well. I’m healthy, and a healthy Akani is a good Akani – so I’m excited for it,” he said.

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Simbine spoke about his ambitions at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“I believe in myself and the work that my team has put in, I have the belief that I am the best, and so when I go to Tokyo, my eyes will be on gold.

“I want to win it for myself, for my country and for my team.”

 

Saturday Star