Having entered the world just two months apart, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies are as close as you’ll get to born rivals, and the battles they have contested over the last five years have been consistently intense.
While Simbine has shone over both the 100m and 200m distances, Bruintjies has become a 100m specialist, and it is in track and field’s blue ribband event that their long-running combat for supremacy has been fought.
With both athletes again showing good form this season, we turn back the clock on some of the clashes which have laid the path in their ongoing duel.
Bruintjies delivers a double blow, as he and Simbine lock horns in their first season at senior level. Still only 19, Bruintjies takes second place in 10.58 behind Simon Magakwe in the 100m final at the SA Senior Championships in Stellenbosch, holding off bronze medallist Simbine by 0.05. Two weeks later, Bruintjies charges to victory in 10.06 (with a +4.9m/s tailwind) at the SA Student Championships in Durban, with Simbine finishing 0.18 off the pace in second position
Proving he is more than a bridesmaid, Simbine comes out on top in a hard-fought 100m battle at the SA U-23 Championships in Stellenbosch. Crossing the line in 10.74, he finishes 0.01 ahead of Gideon Trotter, with Bruintjies taking third place in 10.77. A week later, Simbine ends second behind Magakwe in the race for the national senior title in Pretoria, clocking 10.02. Bruintjies ends fourth, missing the podium by 0.01 after being edged out by Emile Erasmus
Over an eight-day period, Bruintjies and Simbine duke it out for the crown of SA’s fastest man by chasing the national record. Simbine becomes the second South African to dip under 10 seconds, stopping the clock at 9.99 at a meeting in Velenje. In response, Bruintjies slams down a 9.97 to clip 0.01 off Magakwe’s SA mark in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Refusing to be outdone, Simbine matches his performance later in the week to win the world student title in Gwangju
After parting ways with coach Hennie Kriel in Pretoria and joining Simbine’s camp under the wing of Werner Prinsloo, Bruintjies delivers a stunning upset at the SA Senior Championships in Stellenbosch. He fights for every inch in the 100m final, grabbing the national title in 10.17 and edging out an in-form Simbine by 0.04. Though Simbine picks up a hamstring tear in the race, nothing can be taken away from a determined Bruintjies who pockets a well-deserved gold medal
Bruintjies is unable to find his best form at the Rio Olympics, and he is eliminated in the early stages after finishing sixth in his first-round heat in 10.33. Simbine, meanwhile, has a cracking reaction out the blocks in the final, held in cold conditions, but he is closed down. He holds on to clock 9.94, finishing a credible fifth, and though he dips on the line in a blanket finish, he is 0.03 outside a historic podium place
With Simbine ultimately taking centre stage throughout a superb 2017 campaign, the Kempton Park rocket flaunts his early-season form at the SA Senior Championships in Potchefstroom by scorching to gold in the 100m final in 9.95. While Simbine is enjoying the form of his career, after setting a national record of 9.89 the year before, Bruintjies is forced to take a back seat, and there’s no place for him on the podium as he settles for fourth spot in 10.17
Returning once again to the national stage where their long-running rivalry began, another potential contest does not materialise at the SA Senior Championships in Pretoria. Both athletes win their first-round heats, but Simbine feels a niggle in his hamstring and withdraws from the semifinals as a precaution just a few weeks out from the Commonwealth Games. Bruintjies goes on to snatch the bronze medal in the final the following day in 10.15.
Simbine and Bruintjies become brothers in arms, racing to gold and silver in the final at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Simbine wins in 10.03, and Bruintjies holds off Jamaican powerhouse Yohan Blake to snatch second place, as they celebrate a spectacular one-two on the podium.