Simon Petrus MAGAKWE, South Africa (100m-200m and 4x100)
Born: 25 May 1985 in Itsoseng, Northwest Province, RSA
Residence: Carltonville, Northwest Province, RSA
Coach: Unknown at the moment. Magakwe mentioned being coached by a ‘secret admirer.”
Agent: Oliver Topueth
When Simon Magakwe won the 100 metres at the National Championship in Stellenbosch in a time of 10.21 last year (2009), he set South African athletics alight like the proverbial ‘bolt of lightning”. There were two good reasons why Magakwe’s incredible performance created such a stir immediately after he flashed across the finishing line.
It was the first time in nearly ten years that a South African sprinter was able to achieve such a fast time. Furthermore, in the history of SA athletics only eight athletes ever managed to run faster times.
Magakwe’s victory was actually a fairy tale come true. After his victory, athletics supporters learned that he had arrived at the track with his sole possessions stuffed into a Shoprite Checkers carrier bag. He ran in hand-me-down spikes given to him by Hezekiél Sepeng, a former Olympic silver medal winner in the 800 metres.
It was clear that Magakwe was not running simply to win an ordinary race. He was involved in a race for survival. At that time he shared a single room with his mother, a domestic worker in Carltonville. The only job he had was an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs. He was not a trainee officer, but a photographic vendor, who tried to eke out a living by taking passport photos in front of the home affairs building.
He graduated from high school, but there was no money for him to continue with his studies.
“I was forced to engage in menial jobs for survival. For me running was a way to escape from the bad situation I was in and to be noticed.”
And he did just that. It took Magakwe only 10.21 seconds to change his life forever. After his victory his circumstances changed dramatically. All of a sudden everybody wanted to claim a share in South Africa’s latest speed star.
Not surprisingly, the first thing Magakwe did after his astonishing victory was to phone his mother.
“I had to. Before the race many people did not believe in my athletic abillities. My mother was the only one who never had any doubt.
“To hear how proud my mother was after I told her that I had won, made my victory even more special.”
That Saturday afternoon Magakwe also showed that he was capable of handling set-backs. After he had won the SA 100m title in a time of 10.32, he was told that they had to re-run the final because of an apparent false start.
“I was really angry and upset when I was told that we had to re-run the 100m. I considered it unfair, but the second time, when we were under starters orders, I promised myself that I was going to run like never before. I would prove once and for all who was really South Africa’s fastest athlete. I actually thanked the guy who complained, because he gave me an opportunity to run a faster time”, Magakwe said.
Ten minutes later he also competed in the 200m final and finished second in a credible 20.90.
According to Magakwe, he has run ever since he can remember, but he always preferred to play soccer. The only reason why he decided to focus seriously on athletics rather than on soccer was because he was constantly injured on the soccer field.
The turning point of his sports career came in December 2008, when Magakwe injured his knee in a social soccer game in which there was R300 at stake.
“It was only then that I really began to train seriously for the 100m and 200m,” Magakwe said.
Annatjie Smit, a coach from Carltonville, was the first person who realised what Magakwe’s potential as a sprinter was.
“He arrived at the track where I was coaching one day and asked whether I would be prepared to help him. I could see that he was battling to make ends meet because that day he also carried his possessions in a plastic bag. I decided to give Simon a chance to prove himself. He astonished me with the time in which he ran the 100 metres. I immediately realised that he was pure raw talent who was badly in need of help as far as his technique was concerned.“
A definite highlight for Magakwe was when Athletics South Africa sent him to Jamaica as part of his preparation for the 2009 World Championship in Berlin. There he had a chance to meet one of the super stars of international athletics – Usain Bolt.
Magakwe is full of praise for Bolt.
“He is one of the nicest guys I have ever had the privilege to meet. For me it was just amazing that Usain took a real interest in me and that he was even prepared to share his expertise on how to become a better sprinter with me. The most important lesson Usain taught me was that there are no short cuts if you want to become the world’s best sprinter.”
Magakwe reckons that South African sprinting coaches can learn from the way things are done in Jamaica.
“I could see that the coaches worked according to a definite plan. For example, we would train very hard for two weeks and then the third week would be a test period. In each cycle the focus tended more towards quality work rather than quantity, thereby ensuring that the athletes peak when it really matters.”
Although Magakwe is, so far this year, South Africa’s fastest athlete in both sprints he will be the first to admit that he has not really set the sprinting world alight since he ran the 10.21 at Stellenbosch.
In 2010, he defended his SA title in the 100 metres in Durban with a winning time of 10.22 and was third in the 200 metres in a time of 20.74
Magakwe’s most noteworthy performance this year was when he won the 200 metres at a local Yellow Pages meeting in Potchefstroom in 20.23 seconds(17 April), which is the fastest time so far by an African athlete. As far as international athletics is concerned, only 10 athletes have set faster times.
His time of 20.23 makes Magakwe a firm favourite to win the gold medal at the African Championship in Nairobi (28 July to 1 August). He is quietly confident that he will be able to pull off a victory.
As far as the 100 metres is concerned, only Nigeria’s Oyho-Oyhen Egwero (10.20) and Benjamin Adukwa (10.21) are faster than the South African at the moment.
“My main problem at the moment is that I battle with my start. My technique is not what it should be. That is why I am more confident when I run the 200 metres because then I have a chance to make up the time I lose with my start. For me to become a better sprinter, I will have to work on my strength. I also need to be more aggressive out of the blocks and work on my strides,” Magakwe said.
It is not certain who coaches Magakwe at the moment, because his relationship with Smit turned sour shortly after he left to compete in Germany earlier this summer (where he equaled his seasonal best of 10.22 on 9 July). It is a pity because Smit seemed to be able to inspire Magakwe to perform at his best when it mattered. She coached him to run personal bests in both the 100m and 200m sprints.
Magakwe is not prepared to say who is coaching him at the moment.
“I have promised to keep it a secret for now. All I am able to say is that I am coached by a secret admirer.”
100 Metres: 10.21 (10.21)
200 Metres: 20.23 (2010)
100m/200m: 2007: 10.57A/21.43A; 2008: 10.63A/21.70A; 2009: 10.21/20.90; 2010: 10.22/20.23A
2009 1st National Championships (Stellenbosch) (100m) 10.21
2009 1st National Championships (Stellenbosch) (200m) 20.90
2009 QF World Championships (Berlin) (100m) 10.71
2010 1st National Championships (Durban) (100m) 10.22
2010 3rd National Championships (Stellenbosch) (200m) 20.74
Prepared by Wilhelm de Swardt for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010