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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

'I'm happy that I never gave up' - says Gift Leotlela as he reflects on Olympic qualification

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

South African sprint sensation Gift Leotlela says going to the Tokyo Olympics is a result of hard work and years of training. Leotlela managed to clock the time of 9.94 during University Sports South Africa (USSA) Championships in May to book a spot in the squad. With this time, he became the sixth athlete in the country to dip under the hallowed 10 second mark for the 100m. The 23-year-old former national 100m Junior record holder says despite experiencing injuries over the last few years, he managed to rise again.

Leotlela on his way to winning silver at the 2016 World Junior Championships. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

"When I qualified for the Olympics I knew that the chances of me going are very high," explains the Tuks Athlete."But I also knew that it doesn’t mean I’m going, so when I saw my name there I got very emotional. I tried to play it down a little because I was around other people. When it finally sunk in that I’m going I got very emotional, literally wanted to cry. Because this is a moment that we all work for, and in my case I didn’t have a smooth ride over the past few years. Seeing my name there just made me happy that I never gave up."

Leotlela who is coached by renowned athletics coach Hennie Kriel, is in fine form after ending his European season with three wins. He thinks the support structure was the key to his performances. And he believes the experienced he gained will be crucial in Japan. "It’s difficult to say what exactly was the recipe but for me. I think having a great support structure was key, being consistent with my training." explains Leotlela, who was part of SA 4x100m relay team that won a gold medal at the Relay World Challenge in Poland in May.

2016 was a good year for Leotlela who represented South Africa at the Olympic Games, won a silver medal at the World U20 Championships and won gold alongside the legendary Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine in the 4 X 100m relay at the African Championships. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

"Also being disciplined, believing and staying motivated, hungry and never being satisfied was probably a factor in my performances this year. This experience was needed for me to be better prepared for Tokyo. Racing against high level athletes in completely different environments and actually being competitive was very good for me," shared the man who won a silver medal in the 200m at the 2016 World U20 Championships. For Leotlela who was the youngest member in the Team SA squad in the 2016 Rio Olympics, anything can happen once he reaches the finals. "To be honest, I don’t have expectations," he says. "All I have to do is give everything, and as long as I give everything and I enjoy it then it is enough for me. I know I’m in good shape and if I’m in that final then anything can happen."

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