Johannesburg - With South Africa’s poster boy Wayde van Niekerk out of the picture because of an injury, all eyes will be on his friend and South African 100m record holder Akani Simbine to carry the team’s hopes at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next month.
The games will take place in Gold Coast, Queensland, from April 4 to 15.
Simbine has struggled to reach Van Niekerk’s heights, but the upcoming international multisport event presents him with the chance to win his first major international medal.
Van Niekerk believes this is Simbine’s year to deliver on the world stage.
The world 400m record holder is perhaps the right person to comment on Simbine’s potential, as the pair have trained together on numerous occasions ahead of world events.
Van Niekerk, who said he would be cheering for Simbine, said he was confident that Simbine would handle the pressure of leading the team as one of the star performers for South Africa.
While world long jump champion Luvo Manyonga and the country’s golden girl Caster Semenya are expected to collect gold medals in their respective events, the pressure is on Simbine to produce a big performance.
“It’s non-negotiable, Akani is a guaranteed medal contender. He has to deliver a medal performance,” said Van Niekerk.
“But, as a country, we should not put too much pressure on him. He knows that he has big responsibility of producing a performance at the games.”
He added that all that Simbine needed was support and “he will take care of the rest”.
“He has to know that the country loves him and is behind him all the way, and he will do the rest. He has the potential to deliver a gold medal. I have trained with him and also watched him in action. He has that burning desire to succeed. I hope that he will make the country proud.”
Van Niekerk further said Simbine needed to maintain a positive energy and “not stress too much about that gold medal. It will eventually come.”
Simbine, who looks to be in the best possible condition to shine at the event, will compete in the 100m and 200m races.