Van Niek­erk leads Team SA at the IAAF

CityPress - - Sport - CHARLES BALOYI in Lon­don sports@city­press.co.za

The spot­light was on South Africa’s poster boy Wayde van Niek­erk as he stepped onto the track for this year’s IAAF World Cham­pi­onships for the first time at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Olympic Park yes­ter­day in front of a big crowd in wet con­di­tions. The 400m Olympic gold medal­list got a rous­ing re­cep­tion from the crowd. Van Niek­erk is one of the favourites and most talked about ath­letes at the on­go­ing cham­pi­onships. Five South African ath­letes took part in the morn­ing ses­sion as the 400m world record holder (43.03 sec­onds) eased into the semi­fi­nals when he clocked in at 45.27 sec­onds to book his place in the men’s 400m event sched­uled for tonight at 8.40pm South African time.

He was jog­ging as he crossed the fin­ish line, bring­ing the cheer­ing and ap­plaud­ing crowd to its feet.

Van Niek­erk, who is the 400m de­fend­ing cham­pion, is widely re­garded as the suc­ces­sor to Olympic su­per­star Usain Bolt, who will hang up his spikes af­ter the cham­pi­onships.

But the dar­ling of South African ath­let­ics will be pushed all the way by Botswana’s Isaac Mak­wala, who also brushed aside com­pe­ti­tion to storm into the semi­fi­nals with 44.55 sec­onds. Mak­wala’s com­pa­triot Baboloki Thebe also won his heat, clock­ing in at 45.25 sec­onds.

It will be a thrilling fi­nal if the African trio can all make it to that stage. The fi­nal is the last event on Tues­day night.

Van Niek­erk and Thebe will go head-to-head in the round two heats, while Mak­wala will be in ac­tion in the round three heats. Van Niek­erk was not the only South African who made it into the semi­fi­nals. Ca­rina Horn also im­pressed as she charged into the next round of the women’s 100m when she fin­ished in a cred­i­ble third, man­ag­ing a time of 11.28 sec­onds.

Horn will take part in round two of the semi­fi­nal heats tonight at 8.10pm. Pi­eter Con­radie found the go­ing tough as he se­cured sev­enth place in the 400m with 46.62 sec­onds, bow­ing out of the com­pe­ti­tion.

In shot put, Orazio Cre­mona and Jaco En­gel­brecht were also elim­i­nated on a day of mixed for­tunes for Team SA. Cre­mona threw 19.81m and En­gel­brecht’s throw reached 19.59m.

Horn was happy with her heats per­for­mance and promised to im­prove in what is ex­pected to be a tough semi­fi­nal con­test. She was quick to ad­mit that she needs to bring her A game to book a spot in the fi­nal.

“I was a bit ner­vous and it was cold in these wet con­di­tions. I’m just happy to get the qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the semis and hope­fully I will im­prove. It was okay in the be­gin­ning and I tried to main­tain my con­cen­tra­tion, but the nerves got the bet­ter of me,” she said. Horn said the wet con­di­tions had af­fected her per­for­mance in the first round.

“My lane was dry un­til 20m and then it was wet. I will def­i­nitely get bet­ter in the semi­fi­nals,” she said.

PHOTO: MUSTAFA YALCIN / ANADOLU AGENCY / GETTY IMAGES

AT A STROLL Wayde van Niek­erk qual­i­fied for the 400m semi­fi­nals at the IAAF cham­pi­onships

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