You wouldn’t blink if you saw Anaso Jobodwana on the street. Like many young men, he is well dressed and walks hand-in-hand with his girlfriend, 26-year-old American semi-professional athlete Taylor Monae Evans, and looks slight and hungry.
Make no mistake, this 23-year-old has the world at his fast feet. He smashed the South African 200-meter record, with a time of 19.87 seconds, at the World Championships in Beijing in August. In 2016, he is heading for the Olympics in Rio where he will strain every sinew, yet again, against Usain Bolt.
In Beijing, the great man came to him like a Bolt from the blue as the two limbered up.
“In the final he said ‘Are you ready to run this 19 seconds?’, and I just said ‘yeah’. And he said ‘don’t be nervous, you’ve got this,’” says Jobodwana.
“Afterwards he came to me and said ‘I had to talk to you throughout the whole call-room because you were nervous so I had to calm your nerves down. Out of all the finalists you were the one, throughout the rounds, who looked the most ready and relaxed and I don’t understand why you were nervous in the final.’”
Jobodwana was starstruck because Bolt was the guy on the cover of his training file, inside were pictures of him in his stride.
Bolt’s 19 seconds prediction was spot on because in the final, Jobodwana ran close.
“After the finals he came up to me and screamed ‘National record, I’m proud of you!’, but obviously with a deeper voice,” chuckles the soft spoken Jobodwana.
The glare and glamour of the track was a million miles from where Jobodwana grew up in Phakamisa, a township on the outskirts of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It was here that Jobodwana developed his passion for running and breaking records. He would only start training professionally, though, in Grade 10 – at the age of 16.
“I hold the under-9 record at Dale Junior so I guess that kicked-started my passion for sprinting,” he says.
In King William’s Town, his mother is a teacher; his father a retired prison officer. Jobodwana says he was fortunate enough to have parents that sent him to schools that nurtured his talent.
“Growing up, the kids in my neighborhood were way faster than me and better sportsmen. I was lucky enough to get sent to schools that had proper sporting facilities and coaches that would enhance my talent,” says Jobodwana.
It was at school that Jobodwana would make his mark, claiming the number one spot in the country in the 200 meters. In the same year, he was 5th in the world in the junior section, after his first full season of training.
Seven years later, the United States-based sprinter shares the track with the likes of Justin Gatlin and Bolt.
Jobodwana says he moved to the States because he wanted to be part of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).
Jackson State University took a gamble on the sprinter in 2011, offering him a scholarship despite the fact he was recovering from a serious injury. He repaid their faith by qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. Jobodwana says it was thanks to his meticulous coaches.
“South African coaches are good as well. Look at other athletes who are thriving, like Wayde van Niekerk. He gets coached in South Africa, so the coaches here are awesome,” he says.
Jobodwana was not so blessed when it came to financial support. He hasn’t received any recently from Athletics South Africa. Jobodwana recalls receiving financial assistance in 2012 when he needed to qualify for the Olympics, but nothing since then.
“They (Athletics South Africa) are in a bit of shambles at the moment. I’ve been receiving support from endorsements, Nike Africa has been supportive, but I haven’t received anything from Athletics South Africa recently. Maybe they’ll eventually get it right,” says Jobodwana.
Athletics South Africa was not available for comment.
In the run up to Rio, Jobodwana might spring a few surprises – he plans to run the 100 meters more often to increase his speed.
Award-winning Times Media Group sports journalist, David Isaacson, reckons we can expect a medal from Jobodwana in August.
“I’m sure he can bring back a silver medal in Rio,” says Isaacson.
The athlete has his own ideas about what is needed to groom future South African athletes. Jobodwana says the government needs to put more emphasis on scouting and nurturing athletes in rural areas.
Jobodwana says he spoke to Bolt’s coach in Beijing. He suggested the coach come to Africa for three months to mentor young athletes here. Jobodwana says the coach looked keen.
“We all need to figure out how to put proper structures in place that will bring out the best in the future of our athletics,” says Jobodwana.
And the Jobodwanas of tomorrow? The young athlete left them with a stern message.
“Follow your dreams to the fullest. Your dreams have to be crazy enough for people to think they aren’t achievable, that will be the extra drive you need to make them come alive,” he says.
At Rio 2016, Africa will, once again, be looking to its fastest man and his fleet feet.
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