The battle to become South Africa’s fastest man intensified this morning (Sunday) when Henricho Bruintjes set a new South African record by winning the 100 metres in a time of 9.97 seconds (wind +0.08m/s) at the International Résisprint meeting in Switzerland. This performance by Bruintjies happened just four days after Akani Simbine won the 100 metres at the 20th European Athletics Classics Meeting in Slovenia in a time of 9.99 seconds. What is currently happening in South African sprinting reminds one of the battle that took place in the forties of the previous century, to break through to the sub-4-minute mile.
In the 1940’s, the mile record was pushed to 4:01 where it remained for nine years while runners struggled with the idea that, just maybe, the experts were right. Perhaps the human body had reached its limit. However, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, running the distance in 3:59.4.
Two months later, during the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games hosted by Vancouver, both Australia’s John Landy and Bannister ran the distance of one mile in less than four minutes. Bannister just needed to prove to athletes that a sub-4-minute mile was possible and they have been running sub-4-minute miles ever since. Simon Magakwe cracked the proverbial ‘dike’ last year when he won the 100 metres at the South African championships in Pretoria in a time of 9.98 seconds.
He was the first South African to run faster than 10 seconds. In doing so he broke through the psychological barrier that had kept South African sprinters back for decades. An excited Hennie Kriel, Bruintjes’s coach, said he had an adrenaline rush when Bruintjies phoned to tell him what had happened: ‘As coach you always want your athletes to succeed. Henrico and I have been talking about a sub-ten-second race during the past three weeks and Henricho assured me that he was ready to do it. In fact, he told me earlier this week that, if the conditions were right, he was going to do it in Switzerland. I told him to go for it, even if it was in the heats, and that was exactly what he did.’
Henrico’s next race is on Tuesday in Budapest.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott