South Africa’s speed mer­chant eyes rare dou­ble Van Niek­erk’s win in 400 sets stage for re­peat in 200

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Wayde van Niek­erk’s bid for a first world sprint dou­ble since 1995 now turns to the 200m af­ter he stormed to a com­fort­able vic­tory in the 400m on Tues­day.

Af­ter ini­tially strug­gling with the cold, the 25-year-old South African ran a solid fi­nal bend to blast to vic­tory in 43.98sec with a lot to spare, and went straight into re­cov­ery mode ahead of Wed­nes­day’s 200m semi­fi­nals, with the fi­nal on Thurs­day.

“It was quite freez­ing and I strug­gled to get my­self warmed up and ready,” said van Niek­erk, who came into the 400m as de­fend­ing world and Olympic cham­pion.

“I was doubt­ing my mo­men­tum. In the last 150 me­ters I tried putting in an extra gear, but I couldn’t catch my stride un­til my last few me­ters. I just al­lowed the race to go through to the finish line.”

His thoughts im­me­di­ately turned to the 200m, and a rare dou­ble.

The last ath­lete to claim the 200/400m dou­ble was Michael Johnson of the US, who achieved the feat at the 1995 worlds in Gothen­burg and re­peated it a year later at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“It’s eas­ier said than done,” said Van Niek­erk, who smashed Johnson’s 400m world record en route to win­ning gold in Rio and then set the record in the rarely run 300m in Os­trava last month.

“It’s com­pe­ti­tion, it’s very un­pre­dictable,” he said. “My body still feels very good. I go straight to speed.”

New chal­lenges

Van Niek­erk re­it­er­ated that ev­ery sea­son threw up new chal­lenges.

“I know it’s never go­ing to be a walk in the park,” he said. “I’m just so grate­ful to say I came through with a gold medal.

“Ev­ery year has its new chal­lenges, and ev­ery year it gets tough.

“I don’t think it ever gets eas­ier. Right af­ter Rio I found out I had a back in­jury, and this en­tire sea­son I have been strug­gling to find fit­ness, but at the same time my times have been getting bet­ter, es­pe­cially in the short sprints.”

Van Niek­erk, the first ath­lete to break 10sec over 100m, 20sec over 200m and 44sec over 400m, said he was de­lighted his coach Anna Botha would also re­ceive a medal as part of a new ini­tia­tive at the worlds to re­ward coaches.

“Ev­ery­one knows the su­per­star coach I have,” he said of the 74-year-old great-grand­mother who over­sees the hottest prop­erty in world ath­let­ics.

“It’s ac­tu­ally a mas­sive honor for me to be able to reach th­ese great heights with her.

“She has had to wait a long time — with the third gold, she gets to take one home with her, too.

“Un­for­tu­nately my two pre­vi­ous medals had to go to my mom, as she said ‘Ev­ery­thing achieved at home has to stay here’.

“So I am very grate­ful to be able to take this one home my­self !”

Full-fledged mess

Mean­while, the stom­ach virus that hit a num­ber of ath­letes at the worlds ear­lier in the week mor­phed into a fullfledged mess a few hours be­fore the fi­nal, when video sur­faced of Isaac Mak­wala of Botswana — who has pushed Van Niek­erk in races all sea­son — be­ing es­corted away from the ath­letes’ en­trance to the sta­dium.

Mak­wala in­sisted he felt fine, but he vom­ited be­fore Mon­day’s heats for his other race, the 200m, and the IAAF said doc­tors checked him, de­ter­mined he had norovirus and, per the rec­om­men­da­tion of health reg­u­la­tors in Bri­tain, told him he had to stay off the premises for 48 hours.

“I came here for a medal,” a healthy look­ing Mak­wala said in an in­ter­view with BBC Sports.

“Some peo­ple are try­ing to force me to with­draw. I’m OK to run, but some­body’s say­ing I can’t run. It’s a bad thing.”

The IAAF put out its own state­ment de­fend­ing the de­ci­sion, say­ing it “is very sorry that the hard work and tal­ent of Isaac Mak­wala won’t be on dis­play tonight but we have to think of the wel­fare of all ath­letes.”

PHIL NO­BLE / REUTERS

Wayde van Niek­erk of South Africa crosses the finish line in the 400m fi­nal in Lon­don on Tues­day.

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