Akani Simbine got his World Championships campaign off to a speedy start in Budapest, Hungary on Saturday night, winning his 100m heat in a time of 9.97 seconds. The two-time Olympic finalist is bidding to break his major championship medal drought and become the first African athlete to claim the world title.
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Fellow South African Benjamin Richardson just missed out on reaching the semifinals by a few thousandths of a second. Only the top three in each heat and the three fastest losers progressed. The 19-year-old finished fourth in his heat in 10.17 but two other athletes, Nigerian Usheoritse Itsekiri and Iran’s Hassan Taftian also recorded times of 10.17. When taking the thousands of a second into account, it was Itsekiri who progressed.
“I’m really happy to get that first run out the way, get the win out the way, and just feeling the track,” said Simbine afterwards. “It’s my first time inside the stadium today. Just running and winning and trusting my running pattern, and trusting how I race, and trusting the shape that I’m in, you know it’s paying off.”
Speaking about South Africa’s chances in the 4x100m relay, Simbine added: “The relay really looks good, everybody must just stay healthy. Benji [Richardson] is young, you know he’s got a good career ahead, he’s going to have a good career like this. I’m looking forward to the relay, looking forward to fighting for the medal that’s also been missing for the longest time, so we shall see.”
Earlier in the evening Tshepo Tshite qualified for the semifinals of the 1500m after finishing second in the slowest heat of the night in 3:46.79. While Ryan Mphahlele ran a much quicker time of 3:39.16 in his heat to finish 10th, new World Athletics rules for the longer distances meant he missed out as only the top six in each heat progressed to the next round.
“The race was tactical but remember, this year the criteria have changed. It’s not all about how fast you run, it’s all about making sure that you’re in the top six. I think that was the reason the race was tactical,” explained Tshite.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s throwers struggled on Saturday with Olympic finalist Kyle Blignaut (18.82m) and Burger Lamprechts (19.52m) failing to qualify for the shot put final while Victor Hogan fell short in discus qualification, his 61.80m effort seeing him finishing in 27th place.