Sur­prise pick Jo­bod­wana ‘not too far off ’ the pace for Rio

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - ASHFAK MO­HAMED

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.

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