SA sprinter back af­ter ban

African and SA champ Ma­gakwe is eye­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SAMEER NAIK

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.”

PIC­TURES: NHLANHLA PHILLIPS

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.

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