Few have proved more able or more consistent this year over 200m than Anaso Jobodwana. The South African, who capped his season with world champs bronze in Beijing, tells us about his rise to the top.

Wing man

Like so many in South Africa, Anaso Jobodwana first discovered he was fast as a schoolboy rugby player.

“When I got the ball and ran away from everyone, it was quite a rush,” he says. “I just loved the feeling of running.”

He describes himself as a “decent winger,” but with pace as his best asset, running soon came knocking. Having previously played second fiddle to a nippier rival, in tenth grade he became the best sprinter in his school. The thrill of running was replaced by the thrill of winning, and his move from studs to spikes was secured.

Google gains

Aged 16, Jobadwana went to his first national youth championships and placed fourth in the 200m, running 21.68. Back then he had no coach, but he followed the training programmes of coaching legends Loren Seagrave, Tom Tellez and Dan Pfaff on the internet.

“I was really excited every time I went to the track, I could feel myself getting faster,” he says about following the regimens of these coaching icons.

Rites of passage

Finally working with a formal coach, in 2010 the Eastern Cape native landed a 200m bronze medal at the South African junior championships. But that success was tempered by a series of hamstring problems that ruled him out of competition for more than a year.

He contemplated quitting, but as an 18-year-old Xhosa – the second largest ethnic group in South Africa – he had to serve a four-week period in the wilderness to start the formal process of becoming a man. With nothing but his own thoughts to occupy him out in the bush he had a moment of enlightenment.

“There was nothing to do but think about what I wanted to do with my life, and this time taught me that we all have setbacks, but it is up to us to keep going and push through the pain,” he explains. “There are no prizes for giving up. This was when I realised athletics is what I wanted to do.”

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American adventure

In 2011, Jobodwana headed to the United States to take up a scholarship at Jackson State University, Mississippi. With a new level of resolve and determination, the South African worked hard on strength and conditioning to help avoid injury. He was introduced to Olympic lifts for the first time, and in his first season ran 20.32 for the 200m. 

“I shocked myself, I thought no way should I be running this quickly after a season of not competing,” he explains. “Every other meet I started dropping my times. When I qualified for NCAAs I was awestruck. I was rubbing shoulders with people I'd read about on the net.”

Olympic effort

Selected to compete for South Africa in the 200m at the 2012 Olympics Games, the tall, slender Jobodwana, then aged just 20, announced himself to the world as a real talent. He shattered his PB, running 20.27 run for second – 0.09 behind Usain Bolt – in his semi to advance to the final.

“It was way beyond my expectations,” explains the softly spoken South African. “Just four years earlier, I'd sat down with friends at the boarding school common room to watch Usain Bolt break the world 200m record at the Beijing Olympics. Yet here I was running next to him in the same race. I was not prepared for it. It was surreal.”

He went on to place eighth in the final.

Anaso Jobodwana ()

At all past three major championships Jobodwana was up against Bolt in the semi finals, and in each of them placed second to qualify for the finals.

From Florida to Phoenix

Greater success followed in 2013. He landed a 100m/200m double at the world university games, trimmed his 200m best to 20.13 and finished sixth in the 200m final at the Moscow World Championships.

In late 2013 he moved to join Loren Seagrave's training group in Florida, but the switch did not work out. A sports hernia ruled him out for the 2014, yet his life was to change when his friend, Canadian long jumper Christabel Nettey, suggested he should take a look around the facilities at the Altis training centre in Arizona.

“As soon as I went I fell in love with it,” he says. In October that year he committed to the centre to be coached by Stuart McMillan.

The little big man

From a technical point of view, Jobodwana has been transformed. After being told he was “6ft 2ins but that he ran like he was 5ft 8in” he sought to expand his stride and work on improving his acceleration, which had been, in his words, “totally useless”.

“To be a decent sprinter I need good mechanics,” he explains. “Usain Bolt, Frankie Fredericks, Obadele Thompson all have great mechanics and know how to cover the ground efficiently. I work on my mechanics every day.”

A combination of his enhanced biomechanics coupled with the strong emphasis on therapy treatment at Altis has enabled the South African to flourish in 2015. He has consistently lowered his 200m PB, which now stands at 19.87. He has claimed top three finishes at five Diamond League events and has been a modicum of consistency, which he says has been a better than expected return for the season.

“My coach's objectives for me at the start of the season were to get back or close to my level in 2013, but I have run faster than predicted, so it is full steam ahead.”

Job' done

Before the world championships in Beijing, the South African was bullish about his prospects. “I want to be a medal contender and to know I can run sub-20,” he told us in early summer.

That mission was accomplished: in the final he ran 19.87 to bag bronze behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Just two milliseconds separated him and Alonso Edward behind him in fourth. The 23-year-old said after the final that the start quality in the field aided his performance.

“It was a rough season and before this I ran 20.20, so I just told myself that I was gonna go and try for the best. It always feels great to run against those guys. I started to run in 2008 and running against him [Bolt] always gives you some energy.”