Wayde van Niekerk and Usain Bolt discuss tactics during training in Kingston this week. Photo: @usainbolt via Twitter

CAPE TOWN – Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine have both paid tribute to sprint king Usain Bolt ahead of his final race on home soil in Jamaica on Saturday.

Van Niekerk and Simbine will also participate in the Racers Grand Prix in Kingston on Saturday (early Sunday morning SA time), but won’t be going head-to-head with the three-time Olympic champion on the track, though.

Van Niekerk will be running in the 200m, while Simbine has been named in the “international” 100m line-up on the provisional starting list compared to Bolt, who will have a number of Jamaicans in his “Salute to a Legend” 100m race.

Simbine, though, will still have his hands full, with Jamaican duo Yohan Blake and Kemar Bailey-Cole, as well as Trinidad and Tobago’s Keston Bledman in his draw.

Olympic 400m champion Van Niekerk’s main competition in the 200m will come from Jamaicans Warren Weir and Rasheed Dwyer, and Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes.

But it’s going to be all about Bolt as he says goodbye to his adoring local fans before he begins his final journey to his swansong at the world championships in London in August.

Van Niekerk and Simbine arrived in Kingston on Monday after competing in the Boston Boost Games in the US on Saturday, and have spoken to the Jamaican media of the admiration they have for Bolt.

“It’s a great honour to come run here in Usain Bolt’s final race in Jamaica. I am a young athlete that’s trying to take the sprinting world as well, and just being at a race where he (Bolt) is saying goodbye to athletics, is a great gain for me as well,” Simbine told the Jamaican Observer.

Van Niekerk and Simbine have been training with Bolt this week, and the former said: “It’s a massive privilege to be here and pay respect for what he has done for track and field. We are looking forward to see his final year and support him all the way for what he has done for us as athletes and the way he has inspired us. He has been massive.”

Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine try to get comfortable after training in Jamaica, while Van Niekerk's coach Ans Botha holds on to a hurdle. Photo: @In_SiteAM via Twitter

But the South African duo have their own goals in mind as they gear up for the European season to prepare for the IAAF World Championships.

Simbine ran 10.21 in the 100m and Van Niekerk 19.84 in the 200m in Boston, but those times aren’t official as they were run on a temporary track on a street.

They have been in top form during 2017, but this is the time when they will begin their serious build-up to the world championships.

Van Niekerk in particular is working harder on his 200m effort than ever before as he is eyeing a double with the 400m in London.

He ran 19.90 on April 22 and is the joint-second fastest over the 200m this year. “It is still quite early in the year. We still have a lot of work to do, quite a lot of areas that I still need to focus on. But I am feeling quite positive (and) it’s really just taking every race as it comes and I am glad,” Van Niekerk told the Jamaican Observer.

“I am excited because I wanted to compete in the 200m internationally. It’s one of my biggest dreams, in fact, my first dream I had as an athlete, and now I am finally getting that opportunity.”

Simbine told the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper: “It’s been a really exciting start for me this year, and a big confidence-booster. I wanted to start off the year on a high, and I’m just glad my coach has gotten me healthy and ready to race.

“It’s going to be really great competing (in the Racers Grand Prix) as I remember the vibe last year, and it was exciting and very hyped up.

“So this year in Bolt’s farewell meet in Jamaica, I’m expecting it to be more exciting and electrifying. I will be bringing out my best.”


IOL Sport

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