The American drawl is coming through, slowly but surely, but Shaun Phatutshedzo Maswanganyi is determined to wear the Team South Africa kit at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 20-year-old from Soweto made everyone sit up and take note on Sunday night when he ran a superb 100m time of 9.87 seconds at The American Outdoor Championships for college athletes in Tampa, Florida as part of the University of Houston Cougars team.

That time would’ve broken Akani Simbine’s national record of 9.89, but a wind of +3.8 metres per second (m/s) meant that it would not be recognised.

Maswanganyi followed it up with an exceptional 19.93 in the 200m a short while later, but again, the wind (3.3m/s) denied him Olympic qualification. His personal bests are 10.06 and 20.31 respectively.

That time would’ve broken Akani Simbine’s national record of 9.89, but a wind of +3.8 metres per second (m/s) meant that it would not be recognised.

Maswanganyi followed it up with an exceptional 19.93 in the 200m a short while later, but again, the wind (3.3m/s) denied him Olympic qualification. His personal bests are 10.06 and 20.31 respectively.

“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling good. Just still waiting to get that legal qualifying standard for the Olympic Games, but so far, the times that I have been running have been consistent,” the former prefect at St Alban’s College in Pretoria told Independent Media from Houston this week.

“And hopefully the SA relay coach (Paul Gorries) can also see that I have been consistent with my performance. I still have a couple of races left this season, but so far, I am feeling good and confident.

“I’ve already been part of the (SA) preliminary relay squad. It’s just been tough as I couldn’t really practice with them, because obviously I stay here now.

“But even then, I still believe I will be part of the team. I know how relays work. I understand relays as my coach has already taught me how to run it. So, I’m hoping that I’ll be a good asset to the relay team, and I am in a good place right now.”

That coach is none other than American legend Carl Lewis, winner of nine Olympic gold medals, one silver, and a total of 10 world championship medals (including eight gold). A pedigree doesn’t get much better than that, but wait, there’s more – the head coach of the Houston Cougars is another former 100m world record-holder, Leroy Burrell.

“It’s a privilege … not many get that opportunity,” Maswanganyi said about working with US athletics royalty.

“I see how many kids are excited to meet Carl, take photos at a track meet. We are warming up and he’s taking photos with the parents, and it’s very motivating and inspiring, especially when you see how much they’ve done and contributing to the sport.

“Every time they are present, I am grateful, because everything happens for a reason. I’m just glad every day that the coaches like me, and I like the coaching, and am always willing to learn.”

Maswanganyi is on a track and field scholarship at Houston, where he intends to major in finance. He said that getting a degree is important to him, and he is hoping to remain in Houston even when he becomes a fully fledged professional.

But first, he needs to clock 10.05 in the 100m and 20.24 in the 200m to get to the Olympics. “Last year already, when I broke the SA junior record, I ran 10.06 with a +0.8 wind. Now I have become more efficient in my races and have been more consistent with my race strategy,” Maswanganyi said.

“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling healthy now. My hamstrings were bothering me a little bit for the last couple of weeks, but I have still been able to perform and just need to really execute over the next couple of weeks. I know if I execute my races, the times will come.”

He is set to compete in the NCAA preliminaries next week, where he will hope to make it into the top 12 and qualify for the nationals – and the Olympics.

And whether it’s ‘Sharn’, as the Americans call him, or Phatutshedzo, Maswanganyi will have the whole of Mzansi right behind him.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za

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