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26 Jul 2013 00:00
Anaso Jobodwana competing in the 200m heats at the 2012 London Olympics. (Getty Images)
Anaso Jobodwana won his first race – an 80m sprint at Selborne Primary School – as a nine-year-old. Shortly thereafter he held a record for the first time in a triangular schools event.
But these days his focus has turned away from winning races and breaking records to a singular goal: beating his personal best time.
This is the 20-year-old athlete’s goal for the upcoming International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Moscow, for which he is working on improving his personal best with a coach whose name he “can’t reveal just yet”.
Jobodwana, fresh from his victories in the 100m and 200m at the World Student Games in Kazan, Russia, said media speculation about when he would break the South African records hadn’t affected him.
“I don’t let all that get to me. I focus only on the pressure I put on myself so that I can gradually build my career without trying to live up to other people’s expectations. That’s what gives me an extra thrill.”
Jobodwana matched his personal best of 10.10 seconds in the 100m at Kazan, narrowly missing the 10.06 national record held by Johan Rossouw and Simon Magakwe. He later finished first in the men’s 200m final, crossing the line in 20 seconds, 0.11 seconds inside Morné Nagel’s 11-year-old South African record. But his time did not count for record purposes because it was recorded with a tailwind of 2.4m a second.
However, the 20-year-old was adamant that breaking records didn’t matter to him at this stage.
“The main thing is always trying to improve on my time – improve as much as I can to see how far I can go. All I’m focused on is getting a personal best in both my events; that’s more important to me than records. Focusing on my personal best will eventually translate into records. It’s not about chasing a record; it’s about just getting better with time. Then, eventually, at the right time, everything will happen.”
Jobodwana shot to fame when he ran a personal best of 20.27 seconds to reach the 200m final at last year’s London Olympics, where his goal had been to better his 200m time and reach the semifinal. Nevertheless, his performance in the final disappointed him.
“I was told I needed to run the semifinal like it was a final by the team manager and I made it to the final. I just wish I had been more prepared for that, because running the semifinal took a lot out of me …If I had a little more strength I think I would have done better.”
Jobodwana, who hails from the Eastern Cape, said his athletics aspirations prompted a move to the United States where he is currently studying physiotherapy at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
“I felt that, if I was to further advance my career, I would have to go to the US where I can be part of the collegiate competition, so I took a chance on that and it worked out well. Almost every week you’re competing with someone who is on the same level with, or even faster than you. This prepares you mentally and physically for bigger competitions.”
Jobodwana has not gone unnoticed in the US. In May he clocked 20.13 seconds, the fastest 200m time in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the national governing body for US college athletics.
He may elect to run only the 200m in Moscow, he says.
Could he pose a threat to Usain Bolt, now that American Tyson Gay (who tested positive for a banned substance) and Jamaicans Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake are all out of the picture (Powell because he tested positive for a stimulant, and Blake due to injury)?
“It’s very difficult to beat him. I’m not going to say it’s impossible but the chances are slim. But with everybody else, it is possible to compete with them and beat them – anything can happen if you train and work hard and have a good coaching and support system behind you. It’s like a Blue Bulls versus Sharks game – it can go either way on the day.”
They almost never made it to the World Student Games, but South Africa's track and field athletes scooped 11 of the team's 14 medals in Kazan, Russia.
And though some critics say their performance, which resulted in them finishing second only to Russia on the track and field medal table, doesn't mean much in the bigger scheme of things, those closely affiliated with university sport say it bodes well for the future of athletics in the country.
"Athletics recorded its best ever performance since our first participation in the World Student Games in 1995," said Ilhaam Groenewald, first vice-president of University Sport South Africa (USSA).
"To end second on the World Student Games medal table is indicative of the talented pool of athletes we have in South Africa and universities proved to be a major role player in our quest to improve results."
Sprint sensation Anaso Jobodwana won both the 100m and 200m gold and Stephen Mokoka finished first in the 10000m.
Gladwin Mzazi won the individual gold in the half marathon and, together with his teammates, won the gold in the team category, bringing the athletics medal tally to five gold, two silver and two bronze.
Mzazi said USSA's decision to withdraw from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee ahead of the games after the latter had banned Athletics South Africa and its athletes had given the team added impetus to perform well.
"After they told us we were going, we were even hungrier to give our best to show them they didn't make a mistake by sending us there. We told ourselves we'd come back with as many medals as possible and we actually did that."
Cobus Kok, the chairperson of the South African Athletics Statisticians, agreed. "My feeling is that the guys got a second chance by being able to go. That is one motivational factor."
He said that the field was also probably "not that strong".
"A lot of the top athletes were not there because of their preparations for the world championships."
But USSA athletics team manager Glen Bentley said the impressive performance signalled the start of something positive for his young team.
"This is the start of great things for these athletes – Rio and beyond is part of their plans. Next year, some of them should be contenders for the Commonwealth Games. With the exception of two athletes, the rest will be eligible to compete at the next games in Korea.
"This was a great team on and off the field. Athletics in our country has a bright future."
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