SA sprinter back after ban
African and SA champ Magakwe is eyeing the Commonwealth Games
AFTER a vigorous warm-up, Simon Magakwe, 31, makes his way to the 100m mark at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.
The sprinter makes sure the laces on his bright blue running shoes are tied perfectly before he gets in to position.
Magakwe is eager to shaveoff some time from his previous runs this week. He knows it will take an impeccable effort to better his time.
“Even if I better my time by 0.01 seconds, I’ll be thrilled,” says the Mafikeng-born runner, grinning. His assistant coach, Ronny Lethlhake, stands on the side of the track with a whistle in his mouth and a timer in his hand, ready to count Magakwe down. When the whistle blows, Magakwe lifts his head up and bolts.
As he passes the finish line, Lethlhake shouts out “10.21” loudly and waves his hands in the air.
The two look happy and embrace one another at the finish line. It seems as if Magakwe may have managed to improve his time from his previous runs.
“Any sort of progress is good progress,” Magakwe says, trying to catch his breath.
His improved time may not be as good as his record 9.98sec sprint in 2014, but Magakwe and his assistant are delighted.
Magakwe has spent the last two years of his life away from the track after he received a two-year ban for missing an out-of-competition drugs test.
Before he was banned, he was South Africa’s fastest man, having broken the 100m record by running 9.98 at the Univer- his mark, with Wayde Van Niekerk the latest athlete to run a sub-10 in the 100m.
“I watched Wayde’s run this week and I was blown away by how impressive he was,” says Magakwe.
“I’m very happy that several South Africans have managed to run the 100m in under 10 seconds. Seeing all these athletes surpass my record has motivated me to push harder so that I can get back to my best.”
Magakwe went through a “rollercoaster of emotions” during his ban, admitting he was ready to hang up his running shoes and call it a day on his athletic career.
“My life had fallen apart. I became an alcoholic and I was drinking every day to numb the pain I was going through.
“I would spend my days lazing on the couch, getting drunk, going out to nightclubs and doing silly things.”
Magakwe, who still insists he never missed a doping test, and was “sabotaged” by the drug board appointed to conduct his test in December 2014, says his life further spiralled out of control after his mother’s death in August.
“I was ready to die and be with my mother,” says a tearful Magakwe.
“My career had ended, I didn’t have any family left. I was living life very dangerously.”
Magakwe lost his home, his money and all his possessions. These days, he lives at a friend’s place, because he can’t afford a home of his own.
“I tried so hard to keep myself together but it was very tough because when I think about what I lost, it was really hard. I was on the verge of becoming a millionaire, on the cusp of signing a few sponsorship deals and, in a flash, everything changed.”
Before his mother died, she told him to return to the track. Later, he started reading the Bible and going to church. “Finding God has given me the strength to return.”
The three- time African champion and eight-time SA champion says while his life has been ruined by the two-year ban he “shouldn’t have received” , he doesn’t hold grudges against the drug-testing authorities.
“I made peace with it,” says Magakwe.
“I hated them at first, but then realised I needed to forgive them because there was nothing I could do to change my circumstances. I still have the belief I’m the best sprinter in the country.”
While Magakwe has his eye on competing at the Commonwealth Games next year and making his debut at the Olympic Games in 2020, his immediate focus is getting into shape for the European season, which starts early next month.
However, Magakwe requires R40 000 to compete in Europe – which he doesn’t have. He is convinced he can reclaim his title of SA’s fastest man. “God has given me this talent and it would be a shame if I never fulfilled my potential.”
Simon Magakwe trains at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg. He was banned from competing for two years, but he says he’s getting ready for the Commonwealth Games.