The one South African record that is sure to be broken this season is the under-20 100m record.
It would be safe to bet that it might be Gift Leotlela (TuksAthletics) who will improve on Akani Simbine’s record of 10.19s. Last year Leotlela consistently ran times of 10.20s. The last time was at the Junior World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Hennie Kriel, (Tuks/HPC) who coaches the Olympian sprinter, confidently predicts that Leotlela is capable of running much faster.
Leotlela just smiles when he is told about his coach’s confidence in his abilities.
“Coach Hennie must be seeing something in training that excites him. I just hope I don’t disappoint him. I don’t want to get obsessed over running a certain time. Athletics made me realise that patience is a virtue. My only focus each time I race is to run to the best of my abilities. I know that at some stage I will get to run my breakthrough race.”
Due to his consistently fast times in the 100 metres it is easy to think of Leotlela as a short sprint specialist, but that is not the case. At last year’s Olympic Games in Rio he represented South Africa in the 200 metres. One of his most amazing performances was winning a silver medal in the 200 metres at the Junior World Championship last year. Many expected him to medal in the 100 metres but he finished fourth in the final.
Leotlela showed a lot of character in the way he refocussed to win the medal.
“I had to redeem myself. The only thing I could think about while I was settling in my starting blocks was that I need to run faster than ever before. It was certainly the most determined I had ever been to succeed in any race. When the starter’s pistol fired I dug deep and ran like never before. That feeling when I crossed the line knowing that I had medalled was unbelievable,” Leotlela reflects about that special evening.
On Friday afternoon at the Varsity Athletics meet in Potchefstroom Leotlela will compete in the 200 metres. It is the first time that he is representing UP-Tuks in the series. His best time is 20.47s.
“In the 200 metres I still battle to keep my top speed right up to the finish, but I am getting there.”
Kriel said what excites him about Leotlela is how focused he is to succeed.
“At times it can be quite challenging to coach Gift. He always wants to know what he can do to run that little bit faster.”
Leotlela, who matriculated at TuksSport High School last year, is studying Sport Science this year at the University of Pretoria.
“It is an amazing feeling to be done with high school. Suddenly I have all this freedom but I do realise that it comes with a lot of responsibility. The lecturers don’t care whether I attend class or not so it is all about self-discipline. Luckily through athletics I have learned a long time ago that the key to success is to be disciplined.”