London — Sprinter Akani Simbine steps onto the world championship track here on Friday night searching for three-hundredths of a second to reach his dream.
That was the difference between his fifth-place finish and the podium at the 2016 Rio Olympics; this time he is hunting for the highest-ranking silverware of his career to date.
Some of his more illustrious compatriots are also in action on the opening day of the global showpiece, such as Caster Semenya, who lines up against world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba in their 1,500m heat, as well as the long-jump trio of Olympic silver medallist Luvo Manyonga, Ruswahl Samaai and Zarck Visser.
With Wayde van Niekerk entering the fray on Saturday in the 400m heats, SA looks likely to surpass its previous best championship haul of four medals, two of them gold, at Paris 2003.
Simbine, with a 9.89 personal best, has the talent to contribute to the tally. He has broken the 10sec barrier on 15 occasions — the same as Carl Lewis — and only 11 of the 124 men to have achieved this did it more often, led by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell (97), Justin Gatlin (56) and the reigning king, Usain Bolt (50).
But Simbine’s season hit a speed wobble after a sensational start in which he dipped under 10sec six times between March and May, the last of them while beating Olympic silver and bronze medallists Gatlin and Andre de Grasse en route to his maiden Diamond League crown in Qatar. His dip in form — which meant ending second or third in his next five races, with just two sub-10 times — came after moving to his training base in Gemona, Italy, while coach Werner Prinsloo stayed at home because of work commitments.
"I think it was a mental issue," admitted Simbine "It got to a point where there was a little bit of doubt and I let that doubt come into play."
But that changed after Prinsloo joined him in Europe about three weeks ago.
"Just having him there has brought that self-belief back, that extra boost I need knowing I have my coach with me and he can see that ‘okay this is what you need to do, this is what you need to fix’, instead of me having to figure out things on my own."
Prinsloo said he was pleased by Simbine’s performance in his last outing, finishing third at the Monaco Diamond League in 10.02 on July 21. "It was a good race in terms of the technical side of things, putting the race together and he showed signs of his old self again."
Simbine agrees. "I feel good again and my body is feeling like I’m actually hitting a peak, you know. My confidence is back and I’m just hoping I can take that and put it into the races and go through the rounds."
Prinsloo believes Simbine does better in championship racing. "Going through rounds suits him so much better than these one-off races."
"He’s taught himself and learned how to go through these rounds and do enough to get into a final. After Rio last year he knew what it took to get into the final so the obvious step after that would be to get the medal… that’s what we’re going for."
The 100m semifinals and the final will take place on Saturday night.
Simbine, who also competes in the 200m next week, said he was going into the championships at full tilt. "My confidence is where it was when I left SA going into Doha."