Nov. 7, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
It’s somewhat ironic that Ncincilili Titi has his own private pilot’s license, because the South Carolina senior sprinter can indeed fly down the track. The six-time All-American is also an honor roll student. But those accomplishments aren’t enough for the fastest 200 meter sprinter in Carolina history. Next on his bucket list is to win a national championship.
“My goals are definitely much bigger than last year,” Titi said. “Last season was a great season, but it wasn’t perfect. I definitely learned from my mistakes, and this year I want to go for the gold. To be on the podium at nationals has been a goal of mine since I’ve been here. Last year really opened my eyes to the possibilities. This year, I really believe I can do it, and it would mean so much.
“After last season, there will be more expectations, and there will be a target on my back,.”
The native of Butterworth, South Africa, has earned podium finishes throughout his career in the 60 meters, 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 meter relay. He earned Second Team Indoor All-America honors in the 200 in 2015 and 2016, honorable mention Outdoor All-America honors in the 4x100 in 2016, and Second Team Outdoor All-America honors in that event last spring. He also grabbed Second Team Outdoor All-America honors in 2016 and 2017 in the 200, before earning First Team Indoor All-America honors for the first time in the 200 last season. He is thankful to head coach Curtis Frye for helping him develop.
“Coach Frye has been in this game for a long time,” Titi said. “He has all the experience you need. For me, he’s a big role model in telling me how the greats that have been here before went about things and what it really takes to get to the top. He has seen it happen many times. He’s a mentor, showing me what steps I need to take to get to the goals I want.”
Titi discovered his speed while still in grade school.
“I would play ‘chase’ with my friends, and I knew I could catch all of them,” Titi said. “So it started pretty early. I started running competitively in the fourth grade. I wasn’t the best, but around the ninth or tenth grade, I really began to see that I had a talent to run fast.”
Every year comes with some failure. I use that to try to get the little things right.
The curious youngster also had flying capture his imagination at a young age, and he earned his pilot’s license before coming to South Carolina.
“I like the speed,” Titi smiled. “That seems appropriate. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I would look up to the sky and watch the planes passing by. Aviation and track & field are definitely my two passions.”
After two-and-a-half solid seasons, Titi’s breakthrough moment came last spring in the 200. He ran a new Gamecock record, 20.14, at the Gamecock Invitational to open the season. That time led the nation for a three-week stretch. It was that performance that served notice to the track & field community that Titi could be a force at the national level.
“The hardest races you run are the slower times because you’re not relaxed,” Titi said. “When you run a really good time, it feels easy. It feels effortless. That’s how it should be. The day I ran a school record, I knew it was a good time. When you’re running, you blur out the world around you. It’s tunnel vision. You see a few elements, but you really block out the world and don’t think too much.”
Unfortunately for Titi, his record run at the Gamecock Invitational would be the high watermark of the 2017 season. He ran his second-best race of the season at regionals, a mark of 20.20 that easily booked a spot into the NCAA Championships. But once in Eugene, his time of 20.52 was not enough to make the national final. Titi would have to settle for second-team All-America status.
Titi admits he can be hard on himself, noting that a fear of failure is what drives him and “comes with the territory” in the competitive world of track and field. But he’s using that fear to come back even stronger in 2018.
“I think failure is a big driving force,” Titi said. “Every year comes with some failure. I use that to try to get the little things right. We’re always shooting for gold, so when you don’t get that, you try to think back and analyze why you didn’t get it. What I like about track and field is that every season, you rewind the clock and start from scratch. You have an opportunity to fix all the things you did wrong the previous season. You want to do well for your teammates and your coaches.
“Everyone can work hard, but you have to work smart as well. That’s where attention to detail comes in. You have to look at your flaws and fix those as best you can while working on your strengths at the same time.”
Having represented South Africa at the 2015 World University Games in Korea, Titi aspires to compete for Olympic gold in the future. But the next thing on his agenda is winning the title this June in Eugene. And when the gold is won, maybe he’ll have time for his other passion.
“After I graduate, I can start flying again,” Titi said. “Whenever I retire from track, I can rely on my flying. It came naturally for me.”
Just like running.
For now, he’s excited to chase his dreams of a national championship. It’s a good bet he’ll be flying down the track for quite some time.
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