Van Niek­erk, the next big name

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LONDON: Wayde van Niek­erk, the ath­lete iden­ti­fied by Usain Bolt as the next trail­blazer for global ath­let­ics, was adamant on Wed­nes­day that he was not afraid to take over the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing the face of his sport.

The day af­ter Bolt had lav­ished him with praise, the South African Van Niek­erk told re­porters that he was not in­tim­i­dated by the ex­pec­ta­tions be­ing heaped upon him be­fore the World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, which start in London to­day.

It is per­fectly pos­si­ble that the 25-yearold could up­stage Bolt in the Ja­maican’s fi­nal cham­pi­onship by pulling off a 200 me­tres/400 me­tres dou­ble that has not been achieved since Michael John­son in Gothen­burg in 1995.

Van Niek­erk is also be­ing tipped to threaten the 400m world record of 43.03 sec­onds that he took from John­son at the Olympic Games last year and warned at a news con­fer­ence in London on Wed­nes­day that he was “in the best shape I could be” to de­liver again.

“It’s one thing some­one say­ing I can be the next big thing,” Van Niek­erk said of Bolt’s words of praise. “But it’s an­other thing work­ing to­wards that great­ness.

“I’m not in­tim­i­dated (by the re­spon­si­bil­ity), you can’t be. This is track and field, this is a dream I need to fight for – and I need to fight for it as hard as I can.”

Van Niek­erk joked that he was ex­pect­ing an in­voice from Bolt for all the ad­vice and en­cour­age­ment the peer­less sprinter had given him.

On Tues­day, the Ja­maican had told re­porters: “Wayde van Niek­erk is prov­ing he is a world star. He has bro­ken the 400m world record, ran the fastest 300m ever, and now he’s do­ing the 200m also. For me, he’s prov­ing that he can step up to the plate.”

It left the South African re­spond­ing: “All of us have a lot of re­spect for Usain and have gained mo­ti­va­tion from what’s he’s done for track and field. So it’s a mas­sive hon­our for me to be men­tioned in the light that I am right now.

“I need to ac­cept it and take the re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“It’s def­i­nitely a good space to be in. Good to see him sup­port­ing me as an ath­lete and back­ing me as the ath­lete I am be­com­ing. It shows that I’m mov­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion as an ath­lete.” Reuters

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