Cape Town – Akani Simbine just smiled when world champion Fred Kerley was asked about his cap, which sported a picture of a goat, during a press conference on Thursday ahead of Friday’s Diamond League event in Florence, Italy.
“I have been wearing this hat this year, and my ultimate goal is to be up there with all the greats before me – the greats of America and the greats of the world. They left a legacy for all of us, and we are reaching for the stars,” US star Kerley said as South African ace Simbine watched on.
Kerley began his journey to GOAT status by winning the 100m gold medal at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon last year, but his real test will come in the Budapest final on August 27, as American sprinters often battle to replicate their blistering times in Europe.
Of course, Simbine’s 9.84 seconds South African record was run in Hungary – in Szekesfehervar, to be exact, which is just a 50-minute drive from Budapest – so he will have fond memories going into the world championships.
But for now, Kerley is looming large in Friday’s showdown, with the US speedster having beaten Simbine just last week in Rabat in a time of 9.94, with the SA star finishing second in 9.99 – ahead of African champion Ferdinand Omanyala of Kenya, who was third in 10.05.
The trio will again line up in Florence on Friday, although Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs was again a late injury withdrawal in Italy, having pulled out with an injury last week as well.
The 28-year-old Kerley is again the favourite, but the 29-year-old Simbine has won his last two Golden Gala Diamond League races in Italy with times of 9.96 (2020) and 10.08 (2021).
“Hopefully it’s lucky number three! It’s been a good build-up to the season, and a good start in Rabat. I’m looking forward to running in Florence again, and putting on my best race there,” Simbine said on Thursday.
“It’s good having top competition out there at all the races. We all are competitors and step on the line to win.
“We don’t want to just get to a race and have an easy day. It needs to be a race where you put out your best and make sure that you are putting out the best race under high pressure.
“So, I think it’s good that we are all out here – big up!”
But so confident is the 1.91m tall Kerley that when he was asked about his ambitions at the world championships and the rest of his career, he said: “Double gold! That’s what I’m aiming for, double gold.
“It’s all about me staying healthy – the moment I stay healthy, the world is mine.
“Like I’ve said before, my biggest competitor is myself. You can’t worry about nobody else because you don’t know what they’re training for… I only know what I can do for myself in training.
“There are only two landmarks for me: 9.69 and 9.58 – Usain Bolt (world record) and Tyson Gay (American record).
“Those are the top two times, and those are the landmarks for me as an American, and what I’m shooting for. I know what I’ve got to do to get those times, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to stay healthy.”
Simbine, though, is a fierce competitor himself, and despite having missed out on Olympic Games and world championship medals previously with a series of fourth-place finishes, he wants to reach the podium in Budapest.
“For me, it’s to do the best I can and run the race I need to run. And Fred says he wants to go for the gold… I also want to go for the gold! So, I guess it’s going to be a show!”