He has been threatening to run a really quick time all year long, but a hamstring injury at the South African championships hampered Akani Simbine’s progress this year.
But on Monday night at the Gyulai István Memorial in Budapest, Hungary, Simbine got it all together as he smashed his very own South African 100m record with a new mark of 9.89 seconds, the first time that a local athlete has gone into the 9.8 range.
Former SA record-holder Henricho Bruintjies clocked the same time of 9.89 at the Gavardo Meeting in Italy on May 29, but it didn’t count as a new record as the wind reading was at +4.4 metres per second, which is well beyond the legal limit of +2.0m/s.
The “Blitz from Klapmuts” made his return to the track from a hamstring injury on Sunday night with a time of 10.37 to end fifth in Padova, Italy.
But for Simbine, the 9.89 will be the new standard as the wind was +1.9m/s, which is just inside the legal limit. He beat a world-class field that included veterans such as Asafa Powell and Kim Collins, as well as American speedster Michael Rodgers.
Jamaican Powell ended second in Hungary in 9.92, with Rodgers third in 10.12 and Collins (St Kitts and Nevis) fourth with 10.13.
Simbine’s time is the fifth fastest in the world this year, with American star Justin Gatlin heading the list with a blistering 9.80 that he produced at the US Olympic Trials in early July.
But Monday night’s time is just reward for all the hard work Simbine has put in since the disappointment at the SA championships in Stellenbosch in April, where he pulled up with a hamstring problem during the race and ended second to Bruintjies.
That was a big blow to the 22-year-old, as he broke Bruintjies’ SA record of 9.97 with a 9.96 in Pretoria in March. Big things were expected from Simbine in an Olympic year, but he spent almost a month on the sidelines following the hamstring injury.
He slowly but surely got back into the swing of things, though, and got the opportunity to train with Usain Bolt in Jamaica in early June, along with his good friend Wayde van Niekerk.
The camp paid off as Simbine ran 10.01 in a duel with Bolt and others, with the Olympic champion winning in 9.88 at the Racers Grand Prix on June 11 in Kingston, Jamaica.
Simbine then followed that up with a street race in Boston the following weekend, where a special track laid down on a road led to a very tight space. The South African ended fourth in 10.32, and the trip meant that he arrived late in Durban for the African Championships the next week.
The travelling certainly had an impact on Simbine as he claimed bronze in 10.05 after running in the heats and a semi-final the day before.
But after a settling-in period at a popular training base for SA athletes in Gemona, Italy over the last few weeks, Simbine produced Monday night’s record-breaking run of 9.89, which is the third fastest ever by an African, with just Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba (9.85) and Namibian great Frankie Fredericks (9.86) having gone faster.
And just to prove that his 100m time was no fluke on Monday, Simbine followed it up with a new personal best in the 200m of 20.16, beating his previous mark of 20.23. That was a strong message from him to the Athletics South Africa selectors after he was only chosen for the 100m for the Rio Olympics, despite having the quickest time by a South African this year of 20.29 in the longer sprint.
World championship bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana and teenagers Clarence Munyai and Gift Leotlela were chosen instead in the 200m group for Rio.
There were three other South Africans in action in Budapest, with 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl finishing second in 49.78 to Japan star Keisuke Nozawa (49.26), while Antonio Alkana was also a runner-up in the 110m hurdles in 13.44 to Hungarian Balasz Baji (13.33).
SA women’s sprint champion Alyssa Conley clocked a 23.22 to end fifth in the 200m, with Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown winning in 22.52.