The well-known logo used by Puma, “Foreverfaster Puma”, could easily be made applicable to Gift Leotlela. “Foreverfaster Gift Leotlela” seems to be the best way to summarise what has lately been happening in the sprints in South African High School athletics. A glance at his achievements so far this season, brings the word “sensational” to mind.
The 16-year-old Leotlela (TuksSport High School) is currently the fastest youth sprinter (under-17) in the 100 metres in the world. His time in the 100 metres is 10.41s and in the 200m it is 20.63s. At the Gauteng North Championships at Tuks, Leotlela broke the South African Youth record over 200 metres in a winning time of 20.63s.
This was 0.16s faster than the 20.79s record set by Leigh Julius in 2002. His winning time of 10.41s for the 100 metres at the South African Junior and Youth Championships in Bloemfontein, was just 0.05 slower than Julius’s national record. To speculate about ‘what could have been’ in sports is always risky but it is interesting to note that, if Leotlela had been allowed to compete at the South African Senior Athletics Championships in Stellenbosch, he might have won a medal.
His times in both sprints are faster than that run by the athletes who won the silver medals in the 100m and 200m. Luckily Leotlela’s coaches, Hennie Kriel and Thabo Matibedi, realised that it would have served no purpose for Leotlela to compete against senior athletes at this stage of his running career. In the history of South African athletics there are countless examples of talented young sprinters who were burnt out because of overzealous coaches and administrators who tried to fast track them.
Kriel is on record saying that he would do his utmost to prevent this from happening to Leotlela. There is an excellent chance that Leotlela will again challenge the stopwatch when he competes at the African Youth Championships that starts in Mauritius on Wednesday. According to Kriel, it is Leotlela’s intense focus on succeeding as an athlete that excites him: ‘Gift reminds me a lot of the way Fourie Du Preez, the Springbok scrumhalf, was when I was involved with the Bulls. They are both introverts but they know what they want to achieve and will leave no stone unturned to fulfil their ambitions. At times it can be quite challenging to coach Gift because he wants to know all the time what he can do to run that little bit faster. I have no doubt that Gift has the ability to become one of the greats in South African, and even international, athletics if he is properly managed. One of the most important aspects is to make sure that he stays injury free.’