Johannesburg - One of the most anticipated questions on the South African athletics scene this year is who will emerge as the man when Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine come up against each other in the 200m.
The half-lap sprint has attracted the attention of the two this year, with the Olympic 400m champion and world record holder and the SA 100m record holder both declaring last year that they would participate in the event.
Having posted the surreal world record of 43.03sec in the 400m, Van Niekerk is going back to his favourite event as he looks for ways to challenge himself by doubling up at the world championships in London this year.
Simbine, whose best in the 200m is a pedestrian (by international standards, anyway) 20.16sec, has decided to concentrate on the event and lower his times to sub-20 seconds, having seen his times gradually come down in spite of not actually training for the race.
But missing from all this talk is a man who should be at the front of every 200m discussion in this country, Anaso Jobodwana. A bronze medallist at the Beijing world championships less than two years ago, it’s amazing how easily the national record holder (19.87sec) has been forgotten.
What with Van Niekerk and Simbine having been invited to a training camp with Usain Bolt in Jamaica, people forget that Jobodwana was the first to strike up a friendship with the legendary sprinter when qualifying for the 2012 Olympic 200m final.
Yet his name already doesn’t rate a mention when talk of a potential world-class local rivalry is mentioned.
There are a few reasons for that: South Africans love nothing more than moving on to the next winner; the bulk of Jobodwana’s development as a sprinter was done in the US; and the 24-year-old inspires a bit of distance between himself and others by being hard-headed about how he wants to do things and generally cultivating an air of being a man of mystery.
The main problem for the Eastern Cape native is that he tends to alternate doing well at major events with injury breaks. A hernia plagued him after the 2013 world champs and he spent the build-up to Rio recovering from another injury, which is why he couldn’t make the semis.
Jobodwana also hasn’t made friends with officialdom because he does not compromise about how he wants to do things. Entered in the 100m as well because he had posted the qualifying time, he deliberately false-started as his wishes not to run both short sprints had been ignored by Athletics SA.
Having come through as a world-class sprinter in the US, Jobodwana hasn’t quite gathered the same kind of following locally as Van Niekerk and Simbine have, because they’ve done their developing in South Africa.
But that shouldn’t be used against him as making it in the American collegiate system is still a tough way to make it. To put it in context, former sprint prodigy Riaan Dempers was destroyed by the same system, which makes Jobodwana a hard bastard for having made it through.
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