Akani Simbine conserves energy ahead of Olympics 100m business end
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CAPE TOWN - Akani Simbine says the Olympic Stadium track is fast, and that he is determined to “running quick on it” in the men’s 100m final at the Tokyo Games on Sunday.
The African record-holder is one of three South Africans who qualified for Sunday afternoon’s semi-finals, alongside Gift Leotlela and Shaun Maswanganyi.
But the SA champion, who was ranked second in the world this year coming into the competition, knows that he will have to come close to equalling his 9.84 seconds personal best – or even quicker – to advance to the final.
The first two athletes in each semi-final will receive automatic qualification, followed by the two ‘fastest losers’. Leotlela lines up in the first semi-final at 12.15pm SA time, Maswanganyi is in the second race at 12.23pm, with Simbine in the last semi-final at 12.31pm. The final is at 2.50pm SA time.
“It’s about conserving as much energy as I can for tomorrow. Tomorrow is more important. I don’t want to burn so much energy in the first round, and have that still in my legs tomorrow,” Simbine said after winning his heat in a time of 10.08.
“Tomorrow is the most important day, where I have to put out a lot of it. And I’m excited I’m through, and I’m keen to run the race tomorrow.
“You just feel it (the fast track). You know what fast tracks feel like, and for us, this track feels really quick, and I’m looking forward to running quick on it.”
Simbine’s main challenger in his semi-final will be Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who stormed to a new personal best of 9.94 to qualify as the second-fastest athlete who advanced to the next round, with Canada’s Andre de Grasse leading the pack in 9.91, followed by American Fred Kerley with 9.97.
Leotlela was the second-quickest South African in the heats with 10.04, after chasing down China’s Bingtian Su (10.05) in the last few metres.
Maswanganyi did well to hold on for the third automatic qualifying spot from his heat, finishing in 10.12.
Leotlela is brimming with confidence after producing a personal best of 9.94 seconds earlier this year, but he will hope to put the injury issues of the past week behind him on Sunday.
“I really enjoyed my race. I just had to go through my drive phase, execute well, and I knew that the speed is there. So, I did what I had to do today,” he said.
“I’m taking it round by round, and I’ve been nursing a lot of niggles this week – I couldn’t train, and I couldn’t get even one session. So, the fact that I could come up with that makes me really happy.
“Of course, before your first race, you have a lot of nerves. But after you run, you feel a lot better. The fact that I know where I am physically, mentally – just ready for the next one.”
But it was a disappointing day for Team SA’s long jump duo of Ruswahl Samaai and Cheswill Johnson, who were unable to qualify for the final.
Samaai’s best effort was 7.70m, while Johnson did not register a distance from his two jumps.
The experienced Samaai was considered an outside bet for a medal, but felt afterwards like he wanted to give up the sport.
“I feel disgusted. I feel like an athlete that wants to retire today… announce my retirement. That’s how I feel. I don’t know what to say,” he said.
“Smiles doesn’t get medals. Enjoying yourself and having a good time doesn’t win medals. I came here with one obligation, and my obligation wasn’t fulfilled.
“I wanted to medal – I wanted to add to the medal tally of South Africa, and I didn’t. Therefore, I take it close to heart, because I know that was even close to what I was supposed to do. Like I said, I feel like I want to retire.
“Everything (was wrong). I think it’s time for change – I think it’s time for a different environment. I think it’s time to… I don’t know. I think it’s time for change.”