Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 127, February 2020 - Page 37

Injury Woes and Lessons In the early years of his career, Akani’s trademark was always his last 30 to 40 metres, where he traditionally came through and swept past his opposition. That changed, though, when he developed a persistent hip flexor injury in 2017, and it changed the dynamics of his racing. That saw his start, which initially was the one area that needed more work, develop into his strength as the hip flexor issue caused him to lose strength and speed endurance in the latter part of the race. So, while the one element that could make the big difference in his racing was fixed, another came up and scuppered all the hard work that went into fixing that element. Given that in 2017 he clocked a best of 9.92, and in 2018 his best was 9.93, one can understand that frustration. After his 9.89 in 2016, Akani had every right to expect to jump to the next level and earn a medal in London at the 2017 World Championships, but the injury meant he had to stop working out in the gym for a year. It is thus no wonder that Akani was frustrated. “I lost almost two years to that injury,” he says. “I had to do functional movement training, rather than hit the weights. That took away my power and my speed endurance. I was always strong at the end, and that went away in a year.” That in turn created more difficulties, he says. “I knew my top end wasn’t there anymore, so I knew I needed to get a really good start to get as far away as I could from my competitors, so I would not have to do so much work at the end.” And when Akani crossed the line in Doha it all hit home. And it hit him hard. “Why didn’t I do this? Or why didn’t I do that? That was hard, and so very disappointing. But then after I digested it, I went away and took away the good parts. I finished fourth, that is my highest finish at a major championship, and I finished with a seasons best, so it was not all bad.” All Eyes on the Olympics Akani has made it clear that there can be only one aim for 2020. “I want to win it! I want to win the Olympics. There is nothing else. 2019 took me to a level where I was upset, with myself, with my coach, with my team, with everything around me. And I promised myself that will never happen again. So if there are things I need to address, I need to do that quickly. I do not want to look back with regrets, what if’s. I do not want to lose another year. I’ll put myself in a position where I am ticking off all the boxes, so I am seeing the doctor, physio and chiro, I have my strength and conditioning coach Wayne Coleman back again since the start of 2018, I’m seeing the dietician... I am ticking all the boxes.” This has also seen Akani and his coach of the last 10 years, Werner Prinsloo, decide to go back to the formula that worked so well for him in 2016, the year he ran his 9.89 best in Budapest. In recent years he has raced mostly overseas, but in 2016 he raced a fair bit in South Africa, opening the season with a 9.95 in Pretoria in March. “This year I will race the Gauteng North Champs on 14 March in Pretoria – that will be like SA’s, man, all the big guns are there. Then I am doing all the Grand Prix’s and I am doubling up at SA’s again.” The Grand Prix Meetings Akani is referring to are the three meetings on 9, 14 and 16 April, in Cape Town, Pretoria and Potchefstroom, with the South African Championships taking place in Pretoria from the 23 to 25 April. Then, once the SA domestic season ends, he intends to take a training block in May and will more than likely head off to Gemona, his training base in Italy, in the middle of May, where he will be based until the Olympics. In terms of racing, only London on 4 July has been confirmed for his international season as yet, but that will change closer to May, with more races added. Meanwhile, Akani says he is looking forward to London. “I love London, it is one of my favourite tracks and a happy hunting ground for me. I hope to race in Budapest again, too, as it is my absolute favourite track to run on, and not only because I ran my SA Record there, but also because it has such a great vibe. The spectators are right next to the track, and because it is always full, it just adds to the atmosphere. You just become one with the supporters.” “If we had improved on our heat time, we could have been challenging for the bronze medal. Given that we only trained together two weeks before the World Champs, imagine what we could have done had we had more time? The relay in Tokyo has to be a medal goal for us, and I do not see why it cannot be gold if the changeovers are slick.” Good news for our sprinters is that Athletics South Africa has bought into the relay team as a genuine medal hope, and is throwing resources at the team’s preparation for Tokyo. This has seen the appointment of a relay coach, former World Junior Champion in the 200m, Paul Gorries, and his impact in Doha was felt immediately. Paul’s task is now to ready the squad and select the final team for the relay’s in Tokyo, and Akani says he is enthused by the new focus. “It is good! ASA sees the huge potential in not only a medal opportunity, but also a way to get our sprinting back to 2016 levels, where we had a few athletes dipping 10 seconds for the 100m.” “In the US and the UK, athletes who know that there is a good chance they won’t make the top three slots for their country at the Olympics or World Championships, see the relays as a chance to make the World Champs or Olympic team. We have so Added Focus in 2020 Akani and Werner have also targeted more 200m races this year. Having not done any 200m races in 2018 due to the hip flexor issue, they know that Akani’s speed endurance will come back if he races more 200m events. “I also have unfinished business with the 200m. It will of course bring back my speed endurance, but I only have one sub-20. That is not good enough. I need to get my body to feel as comfortable breaking 20 as it does breaking 10 in the 100m. Also it gets me ever closer to being the complete sprinter, which I will need to be if I want that Gold in Tokyo,” says Akani. Added to that, Akani will have his eyes firmly set on the 4x100m relay this season. Many feel that South Africa should have earned a medal at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, especially after the 37.65 the team clocked in the qualifying rounds, but a mix-up in the second baton exchange cost them. “I was so disappointed with that result, too,” says Akani. 37