Fast, faster, fastest. When Clarence Munyai and Gift Leatlelo from the TuksSport High School set off to challenge the stopwatch in the 100- and 200 metres sprints, this is usually what happens. Therefore it should not be a surprise that the 18-year-old Munyai ran an Olympic qualifying time of 20.39 seconds on Friday at a schools meeting at the University of Johannesburg.
The only local junior athlete to have run a faster time is Rian Dempers (20.16s in 1995). His friend and ‘rival’, Leatlelo, won the under-18 race in the 100 metres in 10.24s, missing the Olympic qualification by merely 0.08 seconds. At the Youth Commonwealth Games in Samoa last year, Leotlela won the short sprint in a time of 10.20s.
Hennie Kriel (Tuks/HPC), who coaches both of them, confidently predicts that this was only the beginning for his two athletes: ‘Both of them are capable of running faster times and it will not be long before they do so.’ Munyani admits that his winning time in the 200 metres was a slight surprise for him. His previous best was 20.77s.
Munyani says: ‘When I was leading the race I realized that it was going to be a fast time because Gift is in good form and he was pushing hard. However, I honestly did not expect to run 20.39s. I expected my time to be about 20.60s. Running a good bend was the key to my success. I fully realise that any 200 metre race is won or lost round the bend. Qualifying for the Olympic Games was not my goal on Friday. At the moment I am focussed on competing at the IAAF Under-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. If I can win a medal there, it will be mission accomplished.’ Depending on the results of the rest of South Africa’s top sprinters, there is a slight chance that Munyai could be in the 4 x 100m relay squad that will compete in Rio. From a South African perspective it is exciting that, although it is still only March, Akani Simbine (Tuks/HPC) has already set a new South African record (9.96s) in the 100 metres and Wayde Van Niekerk clocked 9.98s to become the first athlete ever to run times faster than 10 seconds in the 100 metres, faster than 20 seconds in the 200 metres and faster than 44 seconds in the 400 metres.
Munyai and Leotlela seem to represent a second generation of South African sprinters who are coming to the fore. Munyai ascribed the continued success of South Africa’s top sprinters to their desire to excel: ‘I think all of us are hungry to succeed and that is why we are prepared to put in the long hard hours and make big sacrifices.’ The Grade 11 learner from TuksSport High School has not yet decided what he prefers to run, the 200 metres or the 100 metres, saying: ‘At the moment the challenge for me is to be equally competitive over both distances.’ Athletics was not always his favourite sport. Up to 2014, when he was still a learner at Heronbridge Private School in the Midrand, he used to be an avid rugby player.
Instead of going on to play provincial rugby at school level, he decided that it would be more rewarding in the long run to challenge the stopwatch. Munyai says his mom, Vinolia, has had a big influence on his athletics career: ‘When she saw me running at a young age she told me that I should never stop running. She said I was blessed with a talent that other people don’t have and I should be grateful for it and not allow it to go to waste. I then made a promise to myself that I would go on running to make her proud of me and I have never looked back.’ Floyd Mayweather (Jr), a five-division world boxing champion, who was undefeated as a professional in 49 fights and is widely considered to be the greatest boxer of his era, is Munyai’s role model.
The teenager says: ‘What I admire about Mayweather is that he never gave up in spite of being ‘robbed’ at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. After winning the bronze medal he made a promise to himself that he would never lose again and he did exactly that. He had an unbelievable work ethic and that is what I am striving towards.’ To relax and forget about athletics Munyai loves to play Xbox. One of his favourite games is Xbox FIFA and he set himself the challenge to get Manchester City to win because, according to him, they battle to do so in the real game.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott