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Speedy Simbine unable to save poor 4x100m team in SA's last medal shot

Canada's Andre De Grasse, Marvin Bracy of the US and Britain's Reece Prescod in action during the men's 4x100m relay final. Akani Simbine is on the far left.
Canada's Andre De Grasse, Marvin Bracy of the US and Britain's Reece Prescod in action during the men's 4x100m relay final. Akani Simbine is on the far left.
Image: REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

Akani Simbine ran the fastest anchor leg in the men’s 4x100m relay at the world championships on Saturday (Sunday morning SA time), but that still wasn’t enough for a medal as they ended sixth overall. 

Canada stunned the US for gold in 37.48sec in Eugene, Oregon, with Britain taking bronze in 37.83. Jamaica crossed the line in fourth place and Ghana fifth. 

SA improved their heat time of 38.31sec to 38.10 in the final, but slow handovers and three sub-standard legs killed their hopes of winning SA’s first medal of the meet, which ends on Sunday. 

The country’s only athletes still in action are Wayne Snyman in the 35km race walk and Marioné Fourie in the women’s 100m hurdles semifinals, although neither are likely to finish in the top eight. Fourie ended third in her heat in 12.94 to advance to the next round. 

At least this won’t be SA’s worst championship performance, having already secured four top-eights, which is one better than the four occasions they’ve managed only three. 

But this is the first time ever that SA has gone through three major meets without athletics silverware, after Doha 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics last year. The previous longest drought was two meets.

The relay selectors made two changes from the heats team, bringing in Gift Leotletla for Henricho Bruintjies, who later announced on social media that he wouldn’t make himself available for the Commonwealth Games.

The other change was positional, switching Emile Erasmus from the second leg to the first, but this team seemed under-drilled for this precision event.

The SA men’s 4x400m relay team failed to pitch for their heats, and a spectator might have been forgiven for thinking it was them who had accidentally stumbled onto the track for the 4x100m final. 

Apart from Simbine’s push on the final leg, which at 8.77sec was faster than even Canada’s Andre De Grasse (8.79), there was nothing similar between this team and the one that triumphed at World Relays in Poland last year. SA later lost that gold medal after Thando Dlodlo, who started the relay, tested positive for a banned substance. 

It is understood that Simbine, who will attempt to defend his Commonwealth Games 100m title in Birmingham next month, might not be available for the relay there. His absence would be a major blow to a team that took silver at Gold Coast 2018.

One has to wonder how happy the team is at the moment. 

The SA women’s 4x400m team, sporting two changes from the outfit that clocked 3min 29.34sec at the African championships in May, finished a distant seventh in their heat in 3:34.68. 

Relays are a great way to win silverware, but they require preparation, training and effort, and this has mostly been a problem for SA, who won the 4x100m gold the last time the championships were staged on the North American continent, at Edmonton 2001. 

It’s time SA’s athletics bosses learn from past mistakes — and successes — and build a strong relay culture.


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