South African sprinter Akani Simbine
South African sprinters stole the show on track as they powered to the semi-finals of the men’s 100m in the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
The sprint kings made history to become the first South African trio to feature in a 100m Olympic semi-finals simultaneously.
Gift Leotlela was the fastest South African qualifier in his heat as he crossed the finish line in 10.04 seconds.
Leotlela told reporters on Saturday that he was concerned leading up to the race as he was nursing an abductor niggle.
“It felt good, the track is feeling nice [but] I’ve been struggling with a niggle, so I couldn’t get one session in. For me to come up with that [run] makes me really happy,” said Leotlela, who clocked 9.94 in the 100m in Johannesburg in May.
“It gave me a huge confidence booster and to trust my body and now it is just to execute.”
Leotlela, appearing in his second Olympics, said he showed growth since being eliminated in the heats in Rio 2016.
“I’ve grown and learnt so much since Rio, I was 18. Now I want to be competitive and show how I’m out there,” said Leotlela.
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Meanwhile, SA’s No 1 sprinter Akani Simbine continued his sublime form as he cruised through to the semi-finals.
Simbine, who is the national and African record holder, crossed the finish line in 10.08 seconds.
The 27-year-old was delighted with his run despite Togo’s Fabrice Dabla disqualification for a false start.
“[I’m] happy to get the first one out of the way, get the rust out and get racing. I’ve been waiting to race for a while, so I’m happy that we’re racing and we’re on to the next round,” Simbine said.
“It didn’t put me off … I’m happy with the race and the amount of energy and conserving the energy that I did and I look forward to tomorrow (Sunday).”
Simbine admits to having a lot more in the tank as he conserved energy for Sunday’s semi-final and final.
“That’s most important,” he added.
“It’s hot, so we’re using a lot of water and energy and to conserve energy is the most important thing now and come back tomorrow (Sunday) with the most energy and bring it all in and go through the rounds and get in the final.”
Never been done before
Before lining up for the start, Simbine watched on as his team-mates qualified for the semi-finals.
“It’s exciting to have them, it’s never been done before and that’s really cool that I have fellow South Africans with me,” said Simbine.
“I’m overjoyed and I’m hoping that we can all go through to the finals.”
The last South Africa to qualify for the semi-finals was Shaun Maswanganyi, who currently resides and studies in Texas, US.
Maswanganyi, who is competing in his first Games, crossed the 100m line third in his heat with a time of 10.12 seconds to seal his place in the semi-final.
The 20-year-old admitted to having some nerves but said he has a lot more in the tank come Sunday.
“I haven’t raced since the beginning of June at Nationals, so it was a nervous race. Just for me to come here, in my first race in over a month, and still come in the semi-final, it puts me in the good books.
“I know the nerves took over, especially when reacting to the gun, I was looking around a lot in the race, but the semi-finals will get better.”
100m semi-final and finals (All SA times):
12:15 – 100m semi-final 1: Gift Leotlela
12:23 – 100m semi-final 2: Shaun Maswanganyi
12:31 – 100m semi-final 3: Akani Simbine
14:50 – 100m final
*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympic Games for Sport24