Leotlela holds his own on the track
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.
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