On Saturday both Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies are on the starting blocks to take on the world’s best sprinters with a possibility of making athletics history for their country.
Judged purely by the World Championships results from 2005 to 2013, they will both have a realistic chance to qualify for the 100 metre final.
With a little bit of luck, they might even be able to contest for a medal. All they need to do is improve their best time of 9.97s by 0.02s.
Starting with Helsinki (2005) and ending with Moscow (2013), the eight fastest times run by athletes to book a place in the 100 metre Championships finals varied from the fastest time (9.89sec), run by Usain Bolt (Jamaica) in Berlin (2009) semi-finals, to the slowest time (9.95 seconds), run by Asafa Powell (Jamaica), also in Berlin.
In Helsinki (2005), Osaka (2007) and Daegu (2011) athletes were able to qualify for the 100m final with times that were mostly slower than 10sec.
In Osaka, no athlete managed to break 10sec in the semi-finals.
In Helsinki Justin Gatlin (US), who won his semi-final in 9.99sec, was the only athlete who was able to dip under 10sec before the final.
In 2011 Yohan Blake (Jamaica), who won in 9.95sec was the only sub-10sec athlete in the semi-finals.
In Helsinki the bronze medal was won in a time of 10.05s; in Osaka it was 9.96s; in Berlin 9.84s; in Daegu 10.09s and in Moscow 9.95s.
This certainly proves that, if Simbine and Bruintjies are anything near their best, they might have a realistic chance to contest for the bronze medal.
Werner Prinsloo, who coaches Simbine (Tuks/HPC), said his athlete has his sights firmly set on qualifying for the 100m final.
“Akani fully realises that he will have to improve on his best time of 9.97sec if he wants to have an impact on the Championships.
Qualifying for the final will be a major highlight for him.
“On a good day Akani might even improve on the South African record.”
Prinsloo compares his sprinter’s dedication to that of a boxer who sometimes has to train a whole year for only one fight.
“Sprinting is all about marginal gains. An athlete sometimes has to train up to nine months, trying to master one small change in his technique, in the hope that it would enable him to run faster times.
” In short, it boils down to being patient and dedicated, while realising that all your efforts might be in vain. The problem is that there are many things that athletes cannot control, for example, the weather and the way in which the meeting is organised.”
Prinsloo ascribes the recent success of the South African sprinters to a three-year learning curve.
“During the past three years athletes such as Akani, Henricho, Wayde (Van Niekerk) and Anaso (Jobodwana) had ample opportunities to compete against athletes in the rest of the world. They were able to learn what to do to improve and become competitive in the international arena.
“It is one thing to be your country’s champion and something totally different to win internationally.
“Another factor that contributed to the success of our athletes is that we have come to realise that the likelihood of a coach and an athlete to achieve success on their own is slim.
“As in the rest of the world our athletes now have access to a proper support team, consisting of a coach, physiotherapists, dieticians, sports psychologists, strength and conditioning experts and doctors.”