CAPE TOWN – While a 100-metre race lasts just 10 seconds, it took Akani Simbine most of that time to get going, but he did enough to clinch victory in the Rome Diamond League meeting on Thursday night.
The South African champion has spent the last few weeks training in Gemona, Italy, having last run at the national championships in Pretoria in mid-April.
His coach, Werner Prinsloo, told IOL Sport earlier this week that he wasn’t expecting a seriously quick time from his athlete, and he was proven right as Simbine won in 10.08 seconds on a perfect night in Florence.
That made it two wins in two years, after he clocked 9.96.
Thursday’s time was well short of his season’s best of 9.99, but the 27-year-old will be delighted to have taken top spot against a solid field that included American veteran Mike Rodgers and Ivorian Arthur Cissé.
It was Antigua’s Cejhae Greene and Briton Chijindu Ujah who were the fastest out of the blocks, with Simbine taking a while to get going. Ujah exploded ahead at the 50m mark, but the South African stayed in touch and eventually caught up and just claimed the win on the finish line in 10.08.
Ujah grabbed second in 10.10, with Liberia’s Emmanuel Matadi third with 10.16.
For Simbine, though, it’s all about peaking at the Tokyo Olympics, and this is the first step on his journey to Japan.
In the women’s 400m hurdles, South African champion Wenda Nel produced a strong run to finish in a commendable fourth position.
The 32-year-old went out fast, and was in the top two after 200m. But that was when Dutch star Femke Bol turned up the heat, and she ran the race of her life to set a new national record of 53.44.
Nel kept going all the way to the line, and ended in fine fashion to stop the clock at 55.20, just 0.04 outside her season’s best. She trailed Ukraine’s Anna Ryzhykova (54.19) and Britain’s Jessica Turner (54.79).
The third South African in action on the night was 400m national champion Zakithi Nene. He would’ve had high hopes going into the race, having run 45.03 this year.
But after flying out of the blocks from lane eight, the 23-year-old’s strategy caught up with him, and he was caught by Colombian Anthony Zambrano, who powered to victory in 44.76.
Nene ran out of steam in the closing stages to take fourth spot in 46.23, behind Italian Davide Re (45.80) and British athlete Matthew Hudson-Smith (45.93).
One of the highlights of the night was Dutch long-distance star Sifan Hassan’s performance in the women’s 1 500m.
Having set a new 10 000m record last Sunday, she lost it to Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey. But on Thursday, she showed her versatility by beating Olympic 1 500m champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya in a new meeting record and world lead of 3:53.63, with Kipyegon second in a personal best of 3:53.91.
“I did not prepare for speed – I trained more for the 10K. I thought that Faith Kipyegon was going to win. At 800m we were so fast, but I tried to do my best,” Hassan told the Diamond League website afterwards.
“I got the meeting record, but for me, it is not so much about the meeting record. I am surprised about the time. It is not my plan to run so fast… I had hoped to run under four minutes.”