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Leotlela’s quick learning curve as he flirts with Rio

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The dreams of many a young school athlete to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games will have to remain just dreams for the moment.
But there is perhaps one exception. Tlotliso Leotlela, a Grade 12 learner at TuksSport High School, has a realistic chance of qualifying for the Games in Rio.
Last year the 17-year-old athlete gave notice of what could be expected when he won the 100 metres at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in a time of 10.20sec.
His time was a mere 0.01sec slower than the 10.19 seconds run by Japan’s Yoshihide Kiryu in November 2012, a time listed on the IAAF rankings as the fastest time ever run by a youth athlete. But the fact that his winning time was just 0.04sec slower than the qualification standard for the Olympic Games in Rio is even more important.
Leotlela also won the 200m at the Youth Games in a time of 20.56s.  If it had not been for a tail-wind of 2.6metre per second, this would have been a new South African youth record as well. It is interesting to note that the Olympic qualification standard for the 200m is 20.50.
Hennie Kriel, his Tuks/HPC coach, has no doubt that Leotlela has the ability to qualify for the Games.
At a league meeting at Pilditch this past Saturday he won the 100m in 10.46s. ‘Tlotliso was disappointed with his time but he should learn that in athletics you don’t always get to run the times you expect. You have to learn to deal with the disappointments. The really fast times usually happen when you least expect,’ said Kriel.
In spite of Kriel’s expectations he made it clear that they are not going to become obsessed with the Olympics. Another big goal for Tlotliso will be to win a medal at the IAAF Under-20 World Championships in Poland.
‘It’s important to remember that although Tlotliso has run a time of 10.20 his second best 100 metres time is only 10.40. The challenge at the moment is to get him to consistently run times of 10.20 and faster. If he could end the season running 10.10s I would be more than satisfied because it will prove that he is on track to run a sub-10-second race. If not this year he will definitely do so next year.’
When asked what made Leotlela such a talented sprinter, Kriel said that in his capacity as a coach he has studied the techniques of various top sprinters in great detail in an attempt to find out what makes them good.
‘The top speed achieved by an athlete such as Usain Bolt is unnatural. A young athlete needs to be specifically trained to emulate Bolt’s technique. The most natural sprinter is definitely Asafa Powell. His sprinting technique is nearly faultless. Gift is an athlete in the same mould as Powell and that’s what makes it so exciting to coach him.’
To get Leotlela to talk about his fleet-footed exploits is a tough challenge but he strictly adheres to the advice once given to him by Wayde van Niekerk during an informal chat.
‘Be humble. Never allow success to go to your head, because you never know what will happen in your next race,’ was what Van Niekerk told the youngster.
Leotlela makes no secret that Van Niekerk, Anaso Jobodwana, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies are his heroes.
‘I especially look up to Wayde.  We are both from the Free State so, apart from being sprinters, we have something else in common.
‘Wayde’s performance last year in the 400-final at the World Championships was goose bump stuff. I was quite emotional afterwards because I knew how hard he had worked for that one perfect moment.’
Leotlela’s next big challenge will be next Tuesday in Pretoria when he will compete against the senior athletes in the 200m at ASA’s Night Series Meeting.

Picture of Leotlela in action courtesy of Reg Caldecott


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