Meet SA's fastest man

By Drum Digital
18 September 2014

I really think I’m the man to beat Bolt, says Simon.

Simon “The Lion” Magakwe (29) became the first South African sprinter to break the 100 m 10-second barrier when he clocked 9.98 seconds at the recent South African Athletics Championships in Pretoria.

The Rustenburg sprinter, holds six 100 m titles. “I really think I’m the man to beat Bolt,” he says.

He and Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt have met three times on the track: in 2011 and 2012 in the Diamond League event and once in the World Challenge, where he was disqualified for a false start.

“I was really looking forward to racing against Bolt. I wanted to show him a clean pair of heels. I was so upset after the false start I went to my room and threw myself on the bed, my dreams shattered. But Usain actually sent a bottle of champagne up to me,’’ he says with a grin.

Now the fifth fastest sprinter in the world after these two Jamaican superstars and Americans Justin Gatlin and Michael Rodgers, Simon is determined to outpace them in the Czech Republic this month. And then he wants to qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Simon’s rise to fame is remarkable for a young man born to domestic worker Martha Magakwe in Itsoseng, near Lichtenburg in the North West Province. He is an only child.

Initially he played soccer but a knee injury stopped that from happening.

In 2009 he seemed to emerge from nowhere to become the country’s new sprint king, arriving at the SA Championships in Stellenbosch with all his life’s possessions stuffed into a carrier bag.

“I was trained by a white man called Oom Christo. He told me before I went to Stellenbosch I was going to be a great athlete,’’ he says.

Former 800-m champion and Olympic star Hezekiél Sepeng also heard about Magakwe’s talent and gave him a pair of running spikes. “I was running a 100-m race in 800-m spikes – and still managed to clock 10.21 seconds, an International Association of Athletics Federations’ “A’’ standard qualifying time,’’ he says.

In 2012, he ran six Olympic 100 m qualifying times, as well as two in the 200 m, all in South Africa, but didn’t make it for the 2012 SA Olympic team.

“I wanted to quit after I’d been left out of the Olympic team,but there were people who believed in me, believed I had the talent to rise to the top,” he says.

“My mother, coach Eugene Thipe – who’s in charge of the Royal Bafokeng Athletics Club – my girlfriend and people in the North West encouraged me to persevere and train hard.”

Simon recently jetted out of South Africa for five high-level competitions that started with the Diamond League meeting in Eugene, US, and will end with the much-anticipated showdown with Usain Bolt at the World Challenge Meeting in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

“It would be great to beat the best and show the world how a lion commands respect between two white lines on the track.”

By Kaizer Ngwenya

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