Forgotten sprinter Simon Magakwe is back and is determined to prove a point. The sprint kings, Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk, welcomed back the fading star, whom they used to admire on the track. But they were quick to tell him that his time had come and gone.
After serving a two-year ban, Magakwe got his first taste of competition at the SA Senior Track and Field Championships at the Puk McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom on Friday.
“It’s exciting and it brings a bit of spice to see him back. But it’s 2017 – he has to catch up and give us that little bit of motivation. I was teasing him that he can’t keep up with us any more, even though we all started by watching him do well,” Van Niekerk said. Simbine also had his say about the return of the six-time South African champion. “It’s good to see him back and I’m keen to see if he can pose a real challenge to me,” Simbine quipped.
Magakwe made an emotional return as he got a standing ovation from his home crowd. He clocked in at 10.40s to win the 100m heat. Magakwe finished second behind Van Niekerk in the semifinals. But he slipped and fell to finish last in the 100m final, which was won by Simbine in 9.95s.
‘‘The people still love me, it was emotional and I think I still have it,’’ Magakwe said. The former champion said he was training with Premier Soccer League outfit Platinum Stars to keep fit and added that he nearly earned himself a contract. ‘‘Due to the frustration of being out I was considering turning into a professional footballer, but athletics is my first love.”
The former South African champion has been in the wilderness for a while, but he is hoping to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in London in August. During his two-year absence, the likes of Simbine, Anaso Jobodwana, Gift Leotlela, Clarence Munyai and Thando Roto are now head and shoulders above him.
Roto (21) added his name earlier this year to the growing list of local sprinters to dip under the magical 10-second mark.
Although Magakwe was the first South African to run sub-10 seconds, his age seems to catching up with him and at the age of 31, he is not getting any younger.
Magakwe said: ‘‘I won’t hang up my spikes and I am determined to prove the doubters wrong. The current crop of youngsters does not faze me.”
Magakwe was suspended for two years in 2015 for refusing to take a drug test during a local meet. But he says he has put the nightmare behind him and is ready to write a new chapter. Magakwe missed out of the African senior championships in Durban and the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, as well as host of local meets.
Magakwe said: “I don’t want to dwell on the past. My focus is on qualifying for the world champs. I watched the African Championships from the stands and I’m a delighted to be back among the elite.”
Magakwe’s training partner, Lebogang Moeng, and his coach, Eugene Thipe, are confident that he will rediscover his former glory. Thipe said: “The work behind the scenes will pay off for our athletes to compete in various big meetings – Magakwe has the ability to bounce back.’’ Moeng also competes in the 100m and 200m. He echoed his comments by declaring his readiness for a grueling athletic season. Moeng said: “Simon and I have been working hard to make sure that, come the competitive season, we are ready to reclaim our success. Coach Thipe has been pushing us hard in training.”