LONDON – South Africa’s sprinting blood brothers, Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk, could combine in the second event of their respective double attempts at the IAAF World Championships in London for a rare podium sweep in the 200m.
Simbine will open his championships on Friday with the 100m heats, while Van Niekerk will start his 400m title defence on Saturday.
To complete their double at the world championships, the two heavyweights will be looking to combine for a rare South African 1-2.
The prospect of South Africa producing such a feat improved after Rio Olympics 200m silver medallist Andre de Grasse of Canada announced his withdrawal on Thursday due to a hamstring injury.
Add world-leading Isaac Makwala to the mix, and the championships could have a Southern African 1-2-3 in the half-lap race.
Simbine said although he and Van Niekerk would be racing to beat each other, it could ultimately ease the tension of performing on such a big stage.
“It brings back that feeling of having your friend with you, at SAs (national championships) you could feel the pressure, but there was no pressure,” Simbine said.
“It was literally fun. Now you go to the track and you’re not on your own… it’ll benefit us because we know how it is to run against each other.
“We’re literally going to be running against each other and nobody else.”
Going into the South African championships, Simbine was the man to beat with his season’s best of 19.95 seconds.
Van Niekerk, in turn, had a point to prove in the half-lap sprint after announcing he would attempt the 200m-400m double at the world championships.
Simbine won the tussle in the 100m, with Van Niekerk finishing behind them before the roles were reversed in the 200m final.
Lining up against each other in the 200m is considered to be neutral ground, with each athlete claiming supremacy in their respective specialist events.
It is a safe place which allows them to be best of friends, but it also represents where the battle lines have been drawn.
“I always tell Wayde that he’ll never beat me in the 100m and he’ll be like ‘Okay, I can dream about that’, and I’ll be like ‘Dude, the most practical way for us to compete is the 200m because it’s in the middle of both of us’,” Simbine said.
“For us it’s a fun thing because we’re competitors, and we like competing against each other because we bring the best out of each other. We want the best for each other.”
Van Niekerk has fired the first shots in the battle for the 200m when he set a new South African record of 19.84 in Kingston, Jamaica in June.
While Simbine’s focus is largely on becoming one of the world’s fastest men in the blue-riband 100m event, he has been making inroads in the longer sprint.
“The 100m is my priority, that’s where my heart is, that’s where I really want to make a stand,” Simbine said. “The 100m is always a special one for me, and I really want to do my best there and dominate there.
“The 200m is a place where I’m still learning how to run. I’m still learning how to adjust my body into the curve because it’s a technical race as well.”