The first time Ncincilili Titi came to the United States was two years ago to enroll at the University of South Carolina. A whirlwind 24 months is starting to pay off for the Gamecocks junior sprinter, a 23-year-old native of Butterworth, South Africa.
Titi won his qualifying heat in the 200-meters on Thursday at the SEC Outdoor Championships and will compete in the final Saturday at the Sheila and Morris Cregger Track. Titi, who had the nation’s top collegiate time in the 200 this outdoor season entering SECs with a 20.14, ran a 20.29 Thursday and will enter the Saturday’s final hoping for a place on the podium. He also competed in Friday night’s 100 meter prelims but failed to qualify for Saturday’s final in that event.
His performance is a bounce back from the 2016 season when he failed to qualify for a final in any event at the SEC Outdoors.
“Last year was very disappointing,” Titi said. “I can look back and say I’ve grown a lot, and so I am very grateful for last year because I learned a lot of lessons. I have come a long way and I’m very happy for that.”
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He’s come so far that he’s now “most definitely” got his eyes on a spot on the South African Olympic team in 2020, he said.
“I wish I had gone to the Olympics last year,” he said. “If I was in this shape last year, I definitely would have gone, but everything has timing. There is a time and place for everything. This year, it’s going well and so I am grateful for that. I’m pretty positive about 2020.”
After Thursday’s qualifying heat in the 200, he’s pretty positive about Saturday on his home track, too.
“It did take more out of me than I thought, but my main priority was to secure that main qualifying spot so coming first was pretty good for me,” he said. “Anything can happen in the final.”
After SECs, Titi will compete in the NCAA Regionals and attempt to make his third trip to nationals in the 200. Last year, he was a second-team All-American after finishing 12th at NCAAs. After the national competition this year, Titi will head home to South Africa for his third visit since arriving in Columbia in the spring of 2015.
He picked USC, he said, after researching the school online and checking out the credentials of track coach Curtis Frye, who has coached 28 Olympians.
“I thought I was in good hands,” he said.
That didn’t make the cultural adjustment any easier. Although Titi already was fluent in English, he was fluent in South African English, which has some notable differences from the language spoken in the United States.
“A simple example is, a napkin, we call it a serviette,” he said. “A napkin for me is basically a baby’s diaper. You don’t want to confuse those things.”
He describes his arrival as “really like, ‘Bam.’
“It all overwhelms you in the first week,” he said, “but I got adjusted.”