On a warm summer morning, in the crowds of Sandton, he is just another face in the crowd – he could be your younger brother’s best friend. But this is Anaso Jobodwana the fastest man in Africa. The athlete with a sprint like a bullet who is aiming for the Rio Olympics; the man from a dot on the South African map who ran against Usain Bolt under the bright lights of Beijing at the World Championships.
This 23-year-old has the world at his fast feet. He smashed the South African 200m meter record, with a time of 19.87 s, in Beijing in August. Next year he is heading for Rio and the Olympics where he will strain every sinew, yet again, against Usain Bolt.
The last time 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 nervous 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’”.
The glare and glamour of the track was a million miles from where Jobodwana grew up, in Zwelitsha, a township on the outskirts of King Williams Town, South Africa. Here Jobodwana has always had a passion for running and breaking. He would only start training professionally, though, in grade 10-when he was 16.
In King Williams 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 neighbourhood 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.
Jobodwana was not so blessed when it came to financial support, he hasn’t received support recently from Athletics South Africa. Jobodwana recalls receiving financial assistance in 2012 when he needed to qualify for the Olympics, for the second time, 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.
In the run up to Rio, Jobodwana might spring a few surprises he plans to run the 100m more often to up his speed.
At Rio 2016, Africa will, once again, be looking to its fastest man and his fleet feet.