Marathon journey made World Relays triumph even sweeter for Akani Simbine and Team SA
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The marathon journey that Team South Africa had to endure to get to Poland for the World Relays proved to be worth it in the end, with the 4x100m team claiming the gold medal on Sunday.
Akani Simbine, who stormed to victory in the final with an astonishing finish, said in the pre-event press conference that it had taken more than 30 hours to reach Silesia in Poland, having left home on Wednesday night.
But he said that the competition was a priority, as they wanted to get things right before the Tokyo Olympics – especially as the likes of the United States, Canada and Jamaica did not travel for the World Relays.
On race night, it was cold and windy, and even the rain came down just as the race started. But soon things heated up, with Thando Dlodlo getting the team off to a solid start, before Gift Leotlela added real impetus with an impressive split of 9.16 seconds.
Clarence Munyai received the baton next, and while he ran a strong leg, South Africa were slightly behind Brazil when Simbine stuck his hand out for the final 100m.
But the Commonwealth Games champion was quickly able to reach top speed, and in a thrilling finish, he managed to beat Brazilian Paulo de Oliveira by one-hundredth of a second as the team recorded a time of 38.71 seconds.
Brazil and third-place Ghana were both disqualified for infringements, which saw Italy bumped up to second and Japan third.
“We came to Poland with the idea to win a medal. And we did,” Simbine said in a press release from his club, Tuks Sport, yesterday. “I knew it was going to be tough. The thing I had going for me was being confident. I knew I could catch up.”
Leotlela told the World Athletics website afterwards that the triumph was especially sweet after the lack of success at the previous World Relays.
“Last time we didn't even make the final, so this victory means a lot to us. We were tired after arriving late at night and the Covid tests, but we recovered well,” he said.
“It's difficult running in these conditions. We are not used to them, so we had to adapt quickly, just get out there, run under 40 seconds and get out of here. This competition is very important for us as preparation for the Olympics. It's a way to test yourself on the big stage. We will focus on our individual events now, but we also have relay camps planned to get ready for Tokyo.”
SA coach Paul Gorries told Independent Media from Poland yesterday that the team were already on their way back home, where the athletes will spend some time before getting ready for the Olympics.
Simbine's personal coach Werner Prinsloo has previously told Independent Media that his athlete will head to Gemona, Italy for training before starting his international season, possibly in Ostrava, Czech Republic or Boston in the US.