South African 100m record-holder Akani Simbine is among a crop of the world’s finest sprinters. Here the world and Olympic 100m finalist and Commonwealth 100m champion talks passionately about his ability to run fast and what it means to him.
“My first sprinting memories were at primary school, although back then I was pretty average and never won any races. I played many sports as a child and I got heavily into soccer. It was as a 12-year-old player with my local club when I first realised I had speed. The club’s main tactic was to kick the ball over the other defenders and then I would use my pace to chase down the ball and try to score a goal.
“It was headmaster at high school who reintroduced me to athletics. He saw I had a talent and said, ‘If you want to continue to play football you need to do athletics as well.’ I gave the sport a go a high school and I recall as a 15-year-old beating kids in sprint races who were three years older than me.
“My headmaster later said I needed to find a coach. At that point I preferred football and I was not too keen but my father stumbled across a coach (Werner Prinsloo, who is still Simbine’s coach today) in a newspaper article complete with his phone number. My dad contacted him and he agreed to take a look at me. However, after I completed back-to-back 60m, I vowed I was never coming back because it was too hard.
“On reflection, I realised sprinting was something I did have a talent for. My mother said in the sport of football you are relying on a team in athletics it is all down to you. I like a challenge, and I realised if I fully committed I had the potential to go far.
“I went back to training and in my first year I became the second quickest South African 100m runner in my age group. I started to apply myself. I researched to find out more about the sport, and aged 19 I ran a South African junior record of 10.19.
“What I love about sprinting is pushing my body to the maximum and knowing at that point I cannot afford to make a single mistake. I like the thrill and adrenaline rush of committing myself fully to reaching the finish line first.
“Sprinting has given me many other opportunities; the biggest one being it has allowed me to travel the world. Until I started sprinting I’d never been on a plane. My first trip was to the zone 6 Games in Zambia. The second time I went on a plane was to compete on the European circuit. I am also fortunate to be associated with a number of good brands through various sponsorship deals. I’m living out a dream and enjoying my chosen career. Sprinting gives me both peace and happiness.”