CAPE TOWN – TLOTLISO Gift Leotlela had enjoyed such a smooth run in his 100m heat at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday that he was able to beat Chinese star Bingtian Su to win the race in an impressive 10.04 seconds.
That is how he grabbed the attention of the rest of the field, as it had looked so easy for the 23-year-old.
But the performance masked a nightmare build-up to the heat, as he was unable to train since arriving in Japan due to a number of injury niggles.
Leotlela has a history of injuries since becoming the youngest South African to compete at the Olympics in athletics when he lined up for the 200m at Rio 2016 at the age of 18 years and 96 days.
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Beating Su – who stormed to a new Asian record of 9.83 seconds in the 100m semi-finals – in the heats would’ve given him great confidence, but his injury issues came back to haunt him on Sunday when he pulled up just before the finish line to clock 10.03, which was not enough to get him into the final.
Fellow SA athlete Shaun Maswanganyi reached the semi-finals as well, but ran 10.10 to miss out on final qualification, while Akani Simbine placed fourth in the final with 9.93.
Italian Marcell Jacobs took the gold medal with 9.80, followed by American Fred Kerley (9.84) and Canada’s Andre de Grasse (9.89).
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Leotlela would not have been able to run further anyway, confirming to IOL Sport on Monday that he had suffered a grade two hamstring tear, which has now also ruled him out of the 4x100m relay team’s quest for a medal later this week.
“I have a grade 2 tear, so it is pretty bad, I’m out of the relay.I felt the hamstring in my warm-up, and it was not a nice feeling.If it was another competition, I would’ve probably pulled out, but this is the Olympics,” Leotlela said from Tokyo.
“Despite the injury, there’s a lot of positives I can take from my experience here.I really enjoyed running at the highest level again, and actually be there in the mix.
“Although my build-up to the race was not what I wanted, been struggling with niggles ever since I landed in Japan and couldn’t train at all.So, I’m happy with how things went considering everything, and now I’m even more excited for next season.”
The men’s 4x100m relay heats take place on Thursday at 4.30am and 4.39am SA time, with the final on Friday at 3.50pm SA time.