Not many athletes would tell Wayde van Niekerk he is a no-hoper in a sprint race.
But friend and 100m ace Akani Simbine says he and the 400m world record-holder, who will face off in the 200m at the World Championships in London next week, enjoy teasing each other.
"I always tell Wayde that he’ll never beat me in the 100m and he’ll be like: ‘okay, I can dream about that’ and I’ll be like: ‘dude, the most practical way for us to compete is the 200m because it’s in the middle for both of us’."
At the national championships in Potchefstroom in April, Simbine downed Van Niekerk in the 100m but had to settle for silver in the 200m.
"For us it’s a fun thing because we like competing against each other, we bring the best out of each other. We want the best for each other."
But Simbine, owner of the 9.89sec SA 100m record, was adamant Van Niekerk, SA’s second-fastest runner with a 9.94 personal best, would never take him in the short sprint.
"That’s my baby. Like the 400m is his baby, the 100m is my baby. He’ll never take me there," he vowed, pointing out he was also Van Niekerk’s master on the Fifa video game.
With Canadian star Andre De Grasse withdrawing from the championships because of injury, the 200m will be without the Olympic silver medallist as well as the champion, Usain Bolt, who is focusing only on the 100m and the relay in London.
That boosts the odds of Simbine and Van Niekerk sharing the 200m podium come the final on Thursday night next week. To date two South Africans have never finished in the top three at a world championship event.
Van Niekerk, with his 19.84sec SA record, and Simbine (19.95) are seeded second and third going into London, behind Botswana’s Isaac Makwala (19.77). Jamaican Yohan Blake, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist and another danger man, is fourth (19.97).
Olympic bronze medallist Christophe Lemaitre of France, seeded 23rd (20.29), is one of four finalists returning from the Rio Games.
Simbine said racing alongside Van Niekerk made competition fun. "You could feel the pressure, but there was no pressure. It was literally fun."