Leotlela holds his own on the track

CityPress - - Sport - CHARLES BALOYI in Dur­ban sports@city­press.co.za

South African athletics ris­ing star Gift Leotlela is jug­gling school­ing and his Olympic dreams. While the spotlight is on poster boy Wayde van Niek­erk and golden girl Caster Se­menya in South African athletics, the 18year-old Leotlela is des­tined to fol­low in their foot­steps on the global stage. Leotlela, who is do­ing Grade 12 at Tuk­sS­port High School in Pretoria, is based at the High Per­for­mance Cen­tre, where he is coached by Hen­nie Kriel. He held his own against a strong field in the men’s 100m fi­nal on Thurs­day, when he fin­ished fourth be­hind sprint kings Ben Youssef Meïté of Ivory Coast (9.95), Mos­ito Le­hata of Le­sotho (10.04) and Mzansi sprint ace Akani Sim­bine (10.05). Leotlela fell short of a medal with his time of 10.24, but he got a pat on the back from the African champ Youssef, and the man who is his idol, Sim­bine. This week, his per­for­mance caught the at­ten­tion of a lot of peo­ple at the Con­fed­er­a­tion of African Athletics Se­nior Cham­pi­onships at the Kings Park Sta­dium in Dur­ban. The Com­mon­wealth Games Youth cham­pion has not had any rest as he pre­pares for the IAAF World Un­der-20 Cham­pi­onships, which will be staged in By­d­goszcz, Poland, from July 19 to 24. Two weeks ago, the Free State-born teenager qual­i­fied for the Olympics in the 200m event in Zam­bia when he clocked 20.47 sec­onds at the South­ern Re­gion Un­der-20 Cham­pi­onships. He said: “This year has re­ally been hard for me at school. I’m in ma­tric and miss a lot of work. “If I had to choose be­tween school and the Olympics, I don’t know what I would choose.” Leotlela said com­pet­ing against some of the con­ti­nent’s best was good prepa­ra­tion for Poland. Sim­bine and Van Niek­erk are also hold­ing thumbs for him to be in­cluded in Team SA for the Olympics by SA Sports Con­fed­er­a­tion and Olympic Com­mit­tee (Sas­coc) next month. “I was run­ning the 200m just for fun, but achieved the qual­i­fy­ing time in Zam­bia, which qual­i­fied me for Rio and I hope to get the nod from Sas­coc,” he said. “I just want to gain more ex­pe­ri­ence and be able to run against top ath­letes. It will be the big­gest thing in my ca­reer if I make the Olympic squad. Akani and Wayde are my in­spi­ra­tion.” About his per­for­mance in the 100m fi­nal, he said he would like to win an African sprint ti­tle.

PHOTO: ROGER SEDRES / GALLO IM­AGES PHOTO: ROGER SEDRES / GALLO IM­AGES

STRUG­GLE Akani Sim­bine says he wants to be on top form at the Olympics PROMISE Gift Leotlela faced a strong field but fin­ished fourth in the men’s 100m this week

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