Akani Simbine acknowledges the crowd after the mens 100m final during the 2017 ASA Championships at Puk McArthur Stadium, Potchefstroom. Photo: Roger Sedres/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - It is South Africa’s AK47 against some of the big guns of world sprinting when Akani Simbine backs into the blocks in the 100 metres for his first international race of the season at the Doha Diamond League meeting on Friday evening (6pm SA time).

South Africa’s undisputed sub-10 second man will go into the race, which includes Rio Olympics silver and bronze medallists Justin Gatlin and Andre de Grasse, buoyed by his early-season form.

Simbine started his season where he left off in 2016 with 10-second times left, right and centre and breaching the barrier five times already this year.

Boasting the second-fastest time in the world this year of 9.92sec, Simbine will be looking to strike an early psychological blow ahead of the IAAF World Championships in London in August.

“This is like the start of my season, so for me it is exciting and I am keen to start off my season. It is a good race because I am up against a top-class line up,” Simbine told Independent Media.

“That is what I need, that is what I want all the time - I always want to run against the best; those are some of the best, excluding Usain Bolt.

“The body is all good, the confidence is there, so everything is ticked off and it is a positive for me, so going into Doha it is just like another race.”

The SA 100m record-holder can get into the blocks with the confidence he has the ability to dip first across the line.

At the Rio Olympics just 3/100ths of a second separated him from a place on the podium.

Simbine finished fifth in Rio with a time of 9.94sec, while Gatlin’s 9.89sec which earned him the silver medal was the same as the South African’s personal best he set a month earlier.

As Bolt draws the curtain on his illustrious career, the world’s next generation of fast men are looking to take the mantle from the Jamaican.

The Doha race features four of the Rio Olympics finalists, including African champion Ben Youssef Meite of Ivory Coast as well as former Jamaican world record holder Asafa Powell.

“It is the Diamond League which you always want to win, and I get to race against the top guys, so for me I want to stamp my name down and say, 'okay, I’m ready for the year and I am ready for the world champs',” Simbine said ahead of his departure to Qatar.

“I feel confident enough to go into the race and now I am seen as one of the guys to look out for, which is also a confidence booster so I’m pretty excited."

Boasting an unprecedented 98 sub-10sec times in his career, Powell could edge a step closer of the landmark 100.

Olusoji Fasuba’s African 100m record of 9.85sec has been on Simbine’s radar since he posted a personal best of 9.89 and is expected to be one of the milestones in the South African’s sights in the build-up to the world championships.

Meanwhile, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, one of Olympic champion Caster Semenya’s main competitors, has withdrawn from the women’s 800m in Doha after her flight was cancelled.

Semenya still faces a strong field which includes Rio Olympics bronze medalist Margaret Wambui of Kenya and Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba, who is the reigning world champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist.

South Africa’s two top men's 400m hurdlers, LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks, will also be in the field in the Qatar capital, where they will face Abderrahaman Samba of Qatar, who posted a world leading time of 48.31 seconds in Sasolburg in March.


The Star

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