The race to become the second South African sprinter to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres is on. Henrico Bruintjies threw down the gauntlet in Prague on Monday with a winning time of 10.06s. This season might just turn out to be one of the most exciting chapters in South African sprinting history.
Apart from the continuing 10-second debate, the other burning question used to be why our local sprinters struggle to perform well at sea level. According to the Track and Field Statistics website Simon Magakwe’s time of 10.20s, which he ran at last year’s Diamond League Meeting in Rome, was the fastest by a South African sprinter at sea level. In 2013 Anaso Jobodwana managed to run times of 10.10s at Greensboro and Kazan, and in 2012 Roscoe Engel ran a time of 10.20s in Port Elizabeth.
And now, all of a sudden, it would seem as if local sprinters are beginning to lose their hang-ups about racing at sea level. The South African champion, Akani Simbine, ran 10.09s in Stellenbosch and 10.08s in Rome and Bruintjies ran 10.06s in Prague. The question now is who will be the first to move to another level and run faster than 10 seconds?
Judging by the statistics, Simbine (Tuks/HPC) must be the favourite to do so. He finished second (10.02s) in the historic 100m race at the National Championships in Pretoria last year. The race was won by Magakwe in 9.98s.
This season Simbine has already managed to run times faster than 10.10 seconds on five occasions. At the Gauteng North Championships he won in 10.04s and 10.06s, but unfortunately both times were wind assisted. Officially he ran under 10.10s in three races.
In contrast to Simbine, the rise of Bruintjies to become one of South Africa’s top sprinters was more conservative. One of the reasons was that he battled with a hamstring injury and could only recently begin to race seriously again. However, his ability to improve in only 16 days from finishing third in Dakar (in a time of 10.16s) to winning in Prague (in 10.06s) was quite impressive.
It shows that he is certainly in form at the moment. Last year his best time was only 10.17s. Jobodwana is the other South African sprinter to watch. He has improved the South African 200m record on two occasions this season.
A best time of 10.10s in the 100m shows that he is no slouch in the shorter sprint either. When Bruintjies was asked how it felt to be suddenly considered to be one of South Africa’s best sprinters, he said it was difficult to describe his feelings: ‘To be an athlete in South Africa is not easy. You need to work twice as hard compared to other sports to make a name for yourself. That is why it is such a relief to, at long last, run a time that everybody is taking notice of. Running 10.06s is a massive personal best for me. What makes it even more special is that it is the fastest time run by a South African sprinter in an international race. I have to thank Anaso (Jobodwana), because if he did not push me all the way I might not have run such a fast time. It is nice to be challenged by a compatriot. I think we proved that we are now ready to take on the world and in the foreseeable future one of us might even win a medal at a major meeting.’
Bruintjies said running a sub-10-second race is the least of his worries: ‘For me it is important to stay injury free and do the small things right, because if I manage to do that the fast times will surely come. I know that I was born to run at least one sub-10-second race, but patience is a virtue. So I am not going to get obsessed with running fast times.’ Simbine will be facing Usain Bolt on Saturday at the Diamond League Meeting in New York while Bruintjies will be running the 200 metres at in Bydgoszcz in Poland on Sunday.
In Dakar he won the 200m in 20.71s.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott