JOHANNESBURG – American swagger in the form of world 100m champion Justin Gatlin was met by its South African equivalent in Anaso Jobodwana ahead of their race in the Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix meeting in Pretoria today.
It was all fun and games in the friendly exchanges between South Africa’s top sprinters Jobodwana and Akani Simbine and the American speedster at yesterday’s press conference.
There were jokes about Jobodwana getting his revenge on Gatlin, who beat him twice in 2015, including the 200m final at the world championships in Beijing
“I want to beat him before he retires, he has about two more years before he hangs up his spikes, so I need to beat him sooner rather than later,” Jobodwana said. “I have huge respect for Gatlin, he is not a world champion for nothing, but this is my home and this would be a great opportunity to get a win over him.”
Jobodwana goes into their race over the rarely run 150m with extra swagger after his American-born wife Taylor Monae gave birth to their first child on Thursday.
“I just try to keep as close as I can for the first 30 metres and then hopefully by the time I get up to my running phase I can chip away at the distance they have gained,” Jobodwana said about his tactics. “Some days you come out on top and some days you don’t, and with Justin I haven’t come out on top, yet, so tomorrow is another chance for me to try and beat him. The jet lag might just pop in on him and I’ll take the win whichever way it comes.”
While the Americans are often seen to operate in their own bubble, Gatlin said they had taken note of South African athletics’ rise.
“Watching these guys not just getting physically better but psychologically the confidence they have gained and you can see they are feeding off each other,” Gatlin said. “Watching Caster (Semenya) in the 800m, watching Akani (Simbine) in the 100m, watching Wayde (van Nieker) in the 400m it’s like catching fire and you will be seeing these guys on the podium countless times.”
Gatlin has been a divisive figure in athletics after he served bans for two doping offences earlier in his career, but the 36-year-old has clearly made peace with the shadow of his chequered past following him around.
He again faced questions about his doping past which in parts he faced head-on while he sidestepped others.
“I believe in my competitors, I believe they are clean, but we don’t sit around and have a round-table discussion about doping or anything like that,” he said.
While Jobodwana has some unfinished business with Gatlin, Simbine has “been there, done that” after he beat the American in the 100m at last year’s Diamond League meeting in Doha.
Simbine will not have a chance to repeat that feat on home soil and instead would have to contend with a quality local field in his first 100m race of the season today.
He goes up against rising star Clarence Munyai, who will be looking to improve on the personal best 10.10sec he set a fortnight ago on the same Tuks track, and ex-national record holder Henricho Bruintjies.