Champion Van Niekerk looks to Bolt for final inspiration
WAYDE van Niekerk will fight for the right to be named as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt at the IAAF World Championships, starting in London today.
The build-up to the global showpiece has seen two of its two biggest drawcards exchange compliments, Van Niekerk paying homage to the retiring hero and Bolt admiring the rise of a star.
Speaking at an Adidas sponsorships event, Van Niekerk said: “It’s one thing someone saying he can be the next great thing but it’s another thing working for that greatness.”
“This is a dream that I need to fight for and I need to fight for it as hard as I can.”
Van Niekerk and Bolt have been involved in an athletic pas de deux since the Rio Olympic Games.
On Tuesday evening Bolt once again singled out Van Niekerk as one of the athletes to become the new poster kid of the sport.
“He told me he’ll send me his invoice because he’s been punting me out there quite a lot,” Van Niekerk said about their relationship in recent times.
“It’s an honour to be able to learn and rub shoulders with a great like Usain.”
The South African world recordholder is on the cusp of reaching his own level of greatness by targeting a rare 200-400m double gold at the championships.
Asked whether he had spoken to Bolt about the pressure of being the face of the sport, Van Niekerk said he had an acute awareness of the task ahead.
“His impact on the sport has been massive and now I have the opportunity to build a small relationship with him and I continue my journey,” Van Niekerk said.
“It gives me a lot of excitement to see what lies in store for me but at the same time I know there’s a lot of responsibility for me to go out there and work for where I want to be.”
The defending 400m world champion said that while he had no immediate plans to remove the one-lap sprint from his repertoire, the shorter distances would receive more attention in future.
“The 400m is a very difficult topic for me, it brought me to where I am today, so I will be stupid to let it go and let it slip,” Van Niekerk said.
“But at the same time, I wish I could leave it and focus on the 100m and the 200m. But I don’t think I would just do that because of the fact that I am doing so great in the event.”
Meanwhile, South Africa’s two shot-putters Orazio Cremona and Jaco Engelbrecht cannot seem to find a reprieve from the throes of winter with cold weather welcoming them at the height of the English summer.
Cremona and Engelbrecht had a tour of the circle in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park amidst cold and wet conditions.
However, nothing could dampen Engelbrecht’s mood after the birth of his second child earlier in the day.
“The birth was supposed to be next week, so it was touch and go whether I would make it or not, but they were apparently doing shopping today and she felt there was something wrong and had to go to the hospital,” Engelbrecht said.
The African champion said the new addition to their family weighed 3.76km.
“I’m looking to make a final, two years ago I set myself the target and I should have made the final two years ago,”
“But my head wasn’t right and I went into a two-year programme so we will see. Distance wise I also want to go 21 metres.”
National throwers coach Terseus Liebenberg was not impressed with the cold weather but Engelbrecht and Cremona remained undeterred in their mission.
Cremona smashed his personal best by almost half-a-metre with a final heave of 21.12 metres to claim the South African title in Potchefstroom, which edged him closer to Janus Robberts’ national record of 21.97m.
Both Cremona and Engelbrecht, who hold up day jobs, opted not to participate in any throw competitions in Europe instead making adjustments during the South African winter.
“I’m not going to put any expectations on myself, I feel good, I am healthy, so I just want to go out and do my best,” Cremona said ahead of competing at his third world championships.
“When you are injury free, it feels like you can fly, I had a good training session today, I feel like the rhythm is there.”
Incessant rain did little to extinguish the Usain Bolt mania that swept through the British capital, the Jamaica dominated the back pages of England’s daily newspapers as the sprinting legend prepares for his final golden hurrah in the 100m on Saturday.
The weatherman predicts clear and sunny conditions for the big race when South Africa’s Akani Simbine is also expected to line up in what promises to be a most memorable final.