Asaba - Top African runner Ben Youssef Meïté has thrown down the gauntlet to South African sprint ace Akani Simbine to become the first African sprinter to win a major international gold medal.
Meïté (32) a long-time rival of Simbine, is giving the baton to Mzansi and Africa’s fastest man to rewrite the history books by winning a gold medal at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships in Doha, Qatar, next year or the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.
Meïté of Ivory Coast says he is now old and no longer has the legs to fulfil that objective.
Simbine, who ran a world leading time (9.94) in Africa at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London last month, has accepted the challenge and firmly believes he can become the first African sprint king to deliver a rare gold medal.
Simbine won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the men’s 100m final at the Gold Coast in Australia in April.
The US-based Ivorian was also furious and could not contain his criticism aimed at the Nigeria local organising committee for the way it treated athletes who were left stranded at the Lagos International Airport for 24 hours without food and water while waiting for connecting flights to Asaba in Nigeria.
Athletes slept on the cold airport floor as they had nowhere to go.
“The organisation is bad. Everything is bad, including the track [at the Stephen Keshi Stadium]. We are professionals, but Nigeria is not,” Meïté said.
“This will discourage athletes like Akani and myself from running in future events on the continent. This is mediocrity at its best. This is nonsense.”
Commenting on Simbine being a potential Olympic medallist, Meïté said the immensely gifted sprinter was on the verge of achieving this feat.
“I talk to him regularly and told him that I believe in him. Not me, but him. I’m turning 32 and it’s time for me to retire. It’s Akani’s time. He can do it. Good luck to him.”
Simbine is embracing the challenge and says he is up to the task.
Simbine and his South African team-mates were also stuck at the airport for 24 hours when they arrived in Lagos on Saturday. They landed in Asaba only on Monday night.
“We all got the same poor treatment,” said Simbine.
“It’s a disappointment to the athletes, but we came here for a reason and that is to win.
“Yeah, I have always been ready to be the best, I have been blessed with an amazing gift.
“Most people believe that I can achieve many things and I am going to do what they believe I can do.
“I can win a world champs or Olympic gold medal.”
The sprinter is the golden boy of African sprinting at the moment and says he loves the attention.
“It’s a blessing and I take everything that motivates me. I came here to be the fastest man in Africa and from there I want to take on the world and conquer it.”
Simbine won the men’s 100m final at the African Championships in Asaba on Thursday night, clocking a time of 10.25 seconds ahead of compatriot Simon Magakwe, who came third behind Arthur Cissé of Ivory Coast.