Local sprint star Akani Simbine will face perhaps the toughest test of his career when he lines up against a powerhouse field spearheaded by world record holder Usain Bolt in Kingston on Saturday night (early hours of Sunday morning, SA time).
Simbine has spent the last week training with Bolt at his camp in Jamaica, along with compatriots Wayde van Niekerk and Justine Palframan.
Having been sidelined by a hamstring niggle, which he picked up at the national championships in Pretoria in March, the 22-year-old speedster returned to action at the Diamond League meeting in Rome last week, where he took fifth place in the men’s 100m sprint in 10.13.
Aiming for a spot at the Olympic final in Rio in August, he will have a chance to build some confidence this weekend against a field packed with Jamaican stars at the Racers Grand Prix meeting.
Five of the seven other men in the line-up for the short dash have run faster than Simbine’s national record of 9.96 seconds, which he set in Pretoria in March.
Three of the athletes in the field – Bolt, former world champion Yohan Blake and former world record holder Asafa Powell – have run 9.72 or quicker in their careers. Global one-lap champion Van Niekerk, meanwhile, will go down into the blocks as the favourite against another strong line-up in the men’s 300m race.
Having clocked 31.63 to set the African best over the rarely run distance in Birmingham last year, Van Niekerk will capitalise on the raw speed he has displayed this season to make a statement against fellow Olympic one-lap contenders LaShawn Merritt of the United States and Isaac Makwala of Botswana.
Palframan, the World Student Games 400m champion, will compete in her specialist event against a field led by Commonwealth Games silver medallist Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica and five-time World Championships relay medallist Natasha Hastings of the US.