Akani Simbine: Everything you need to know about South Africa's sprinting sensation

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09:  Akani Simbine of South Africa celebrates winning gold as he crosses the line ahead of silver medalist Henricho Bruintjies of South Africa in the Men's 100 metres final during the Athletics on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09: Akani Simbine of South Africa celebrates winning gold as he crosses the line ahead of silver medalist Henricho Bruintjies of South Africa in the Men's 100 metres final during the Athletics on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

A regular in 100m finals at major competitions, Simbine is expected to be among the medal prospects in the blue-ribbon event.

Akani Simbine, South Africa's fastest man over 100 metres, has built a reputation as one of the most consistent sprinters on the international stage.

While he has routinely produced world-beating times, the silverware seemed to have eluded him, but his upwards trajectory suggests things may soon change.

What should you know about the South African speedster?

CHARZOW, POLAND - MAY 02: Akani Simbine celebrates winning the 4x100 Metres Relay race on Day Two of the IAAF World Athletics Relay Silesia21 at the Merchant logo Slaski Stadium on May 02, 2021 in Charzow, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
CHARZOW, POLAND - MAY 02: Akani Simbine celebrates winning the 4x100 Metres Relay race on Day Two of the IAAF World Athletics Relay Silesia21 at the Merchant logo Slaski Stadium on May 02, 2021 in Charzow, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
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1 – South Africa's sub-10 second machine

He may not have been South Africa's first sprinter to dip below 10 seconds in the 100 metres, but he is undoubtedly the country's and one of the world's most prolific sub-10 second athletes.

Since breaking through the 10-second barrier in 2015, Simbine has gone below the magical mark on 29 occasions. Only one has been aided by an illegal tailwind. 

In the build-up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he set a South African record of 9.89 seconds which was the sixth-fastest time that year.

He has been among the world's top-10 fastest men in the short sprint every year since his breakthrough in 2016. 

Earlier this year, Simbine clocked a wind-aided 9.82 (+2.8m/s) at the South African Championships in Pretoria, suggesting he had faster times in his legs.

2 – From Mr Chill to AK-47

Simbine's calm demeanour initially earned him the nickname Mr Chill, but it is not quite the nom de guerre fit for a 100m sprinter.

He is now better known as AK (named after the AK-47 assault rifle) thanks to his rising stock on the international stage in the track's blue-ribbon event. While his nickname refers to the frenetic rat-a-tat-tat sound of his feet hitting the track, Simbine remains cool, calm and collected when he backs into the blocks.

"I've never seen him lose control. He'll get angry, and I can see it because he gets this ice-cold look on his face. Then I know he's angry," Simbine's long-time coach Werner Prinsloo told The Sunday Times in South Africa.

3 – Running man tattoo

A curious tattoo on Simbine's left calf may both perplex his competition and serve as a jarring reminder that they are in trouble should it catch their eyes. 

The ink on his calf of a man in mid-sprint has a close resemblance to Simbine, and in fact, the tattoo is a depiction of the athlete himself. 

"I wanted to get a running man, then the tattoo artist said, 'you're a running man, why don't you just get yourself'," Simbine told World Athletics. "So I said: cool."

4 – Degree to disagree

For many, higher education is a marathon and not a sprint, but if you are a man on a mission to become one of the fastest humans, you want to race through your course work. 

In 2015 Simbine was crowned the world's fastest student in the world, equalling the South African 100m record and dipping below 10 seconds for the first time. Simbine blitzed to victory at the World Student Games in Gwangju, South Korea, with a time of 9.97. 

The South African sprinting sensation completed a Bachelor of Information Science degree in 2017 thanks to some coercion from his mother, Elsie. Although Elsie encouraged Simbine to pursue athletics, she was adamant he finished his degree to find a 'real job' one day. 

Getting his hands on the degree was no easy feat juggling studies and racing on the global stage, including at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

"I'm nearly done with my studies, but as I keep telling people, I'm going to get my degree and then just give it to my mother – here, this is yours – and then I'm going to go run full-time and focus on that,” Simbine said in an interview with Modern Athlete shortly after the Games.

5 – Making a case for an Olympic medal

Simbine has been among the regular faces in the 100m final line-ups at major track and field meetings over the last five years. 

The 27-year-old made history in Rio 2016, where he became the first South African male sprinter to make it into an Olympic 100m final in 84 years. Simbine finished fifth in the final and repeated the result the following year at the 2017 World Championships in London. 

Etching closer to an elusive podium spot, Simbine crossed the line in fourth place in the 100m final at the Doha World Championships in 2019. 

While his pursuit for higher honours continues unabated, Simbine can take confidence in his 2018 Commonwealth Games title victory, where he beat former world champion Yohan Blake into third place. 

More recently, he anchored South Africa to a maiden 4x100m title at the World Relays in Chorzow, Poland, in May for a much-needed confidence boost heading into the international season. 

"I'm a 100m sprinter, and if I don't see myself being on a podium, then I shouldn't be doing it," Simbine told World Athletics.

"I just need to make sure I'm able to get to Tokyo in the best shape I've ever been in, and we'll see what happens there.

"I'm really excited (with) the way I've started, but I'm keeping my head down and working. I have the confidence, I know what I can do, and it's just making sure I do it in Tokyo."