Surprise pick Jobodwana ‘not too far off ’ the pace for Rio
WHILE much of the focus during last year’s Beijing athletics world championships was around Wayde van Niekerk’s 400m victory, another sprinter made history in the 200m.
Anaso Jobodwana was an unlikely figure in the 200m final after injury saw him miss the entire 2014 season. Before that, he had shocked the athletics scene by making it all the way to the London Olympics final in 2012, where he was up against Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt.
The then 20- year- old Jobodwana ended eighth as Bolt stormed to victory, but the South African continued his rise by reaching the final at the world championships in Moscow the following year and finishing sixth in a new personal best of 20.13.
Fast-forward to Beijing in August of 2015, and the man from the Eastern Cape made his breakthrough into the top division of 200m runners by winning bronze in 19.87, a new South African record.
Jobodwana trailed Bolt (19.55) and American star Justin Gatlin (19.74), and the athletics world was at his feet. But a troublesome injury that causes inflammation in his pelvis has prevented him from competing in 2016.
His absence jeopardised his place in Team South Africa for the Rio Games, as Van Niekerk, Akani Simbine, Clarence Munyai and Gift Leotlela all ran qualifying times in the 200m.
But on Thursday he was included in a 39-strong athletics team bound for Brazil, with Munyai and Leotlela also in the 200m lineup as Simbine was controversially only listed in the 100m, ostensibly due to running fewer 200m races this year due to a hamstring injury.
His selection for a second Olympics comes as a major relief for Jobodwana, who decided to hold a question-and-answer session on his Facebook page yesterday. And, of course, the most important question was about his fitness, and the 23-year-old responded positively.
“I’m fit in terms of running the times at training, so I’m slowly building. There are a few things I need to work on, but I’ve got a month to iron it out,” he said. “I’ve never been in this position before (minimal training with no races), but I know my body well so it’s telling me I’m not too far off.”
It is unclear whether Jobodwana – who will turn 24 in two weeks’ time – will be ready to run a race before getting to Rio, where his first 200m heat takes place on August 16.
That gives him exactly a month to get into optimum shape and if he does, he is confident of being a contender for a medal. But he will first have to get past the likes of 400m American star LaShawn Merritt, who has run a world-leading time of 19.74 this year, as well as Gatlin (19.75).
That’s not to mention Bolt, who hasn’t registered a 200m time this year but will still be the favourite, despite sustaining a hamstring injury in the Jamaican Olympic trials.
Jobodwana is thrilled about taking on Merritt, but hasn’t yet worked out a “game plan” to challenge Bolt. “It’s awesome. I trained with him (Merritt) for a year and he taught me a lot about this sport. So I’m excited to run against him,” he said.
“I have honestly never thought about that (about what he lacks to beat Bolt). Personally to improve my race, I need to have a faster bend run. I promise that my goal is to get a medal. And put my best foot forward.”
If he could get a faster start and hit the home straight in third perhaps in Rio, a fully fit Jobodwana may just be able to take the next step to realistically compete against Bolt and Gatlin.