Wayde van Niek­erk, South Africa's EMER­ALD SPEED­STER

Wayde wants to prove that he is one of the best by de­fend­ing his 400m crown, writes Ock­ert de Vil­liers

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

“NOTH­ING IS im­pos­si­ble,” Wayde van Niek­erk says as he hints to greater things to come in not only his spe­cial­ist 400m sprint but in the short sprint events.

The golden thread in the build-up to the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships has been about Ja­maican leg­end Usain Bolt’s fi­nal hur­rah with Van Niek­erk named the de facto heir to his throne.

Five years ago Bolt pro­claimed he could fi­nally be called a liv­ing leg­end af­ter win­ning his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive 100-200m dou­ble Olympic gold in Lon­don 2012.

The world stood in awe of the achieve­ments of the great­est sprinter the world has ever seen as the Ja­maican added an­other dou­ble four years later in Rio de Janeiro.

While Bolt ce­mented his place as one of the great­est ath­letes to walk the earth, Van Niek­erk found some in­spi­ra­tion from the 2012 Olympics af­ter miss­ing out due to in­jury.

“When the Olympics was here (Lon­don) I was back home think­ing ‘I am do­ing good things but I haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity yet to com­pete at se­nior level in­ter­na­tion­ally,,” Van Niek­erk said.

“That re­ally gave me a big mo­ti­va­tion and a big push to work to­wards be­ing on th­ese stages and that is where the Rio dream started.

“I re­mem­ber back in Bei­jing I would have set­tled for a fi­nal or a bronze medal and I ended up win­ning the gold.”

The de­fend­ing 400m world cham­pion no longer has to prove his pedi­gree in the onelap sprint while his times in the shorter dis­tances cer­tainly places him among the best in the world.

The next week prom­ises to be defin­ing in Van Niek­erk’s pur­suit of great­ness as he hopes to be­come the first man since Michael John­son at Gothen­burg 1995 to win the 200400m dou­ble gold.

“The 100m and the 200m has al­ways been a dream for my­self to do great things and the growth is very im­por­tant. If I can reach those heights, I’d know I’ve used my gifts and tal­ents,” Van Niek­erk said on the eve of the Lon­don World Cham­pi­onships.

It is that in­sa­tiable hunger for growth that has seen Van Niek­erk sign up for one of the tough­est tests in ath­let­ics.

“At Rio I had to back up what I did the year be­fore and luck­ily I got the record. And now we are onto the third year, so I need to do bet­ter than I did last year,” Van Niek­erk said.

“That is why I de­cided to chal­lenge my­self to do both the 200m and the 400m.”

Bolt paid the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment to the South African, el­e­vat­ing him to po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor.

“I think Wayde is do­ing a pretty good job … he’s now go­ing to run the 200m, so for me that’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing,” Bolt said.

“I think he wants to be a sprinter re­ally bad, so I think he’s one of the peo­ple to watch out for.

“He’s go­ing to be a re­ally good ath­lete and I’m pretty cool with him and he’s a re­ally nice guy and he’s re­ally chilled. He just has a re­ally en­closed per­son­al­ity.”

Van Niek­erk has emerged as one of the most ex­cit­ing prospects in world ath­let­ics af­ter win­ning the 400m world ti­tle two years ago.

He re­vealed his true po­ten­tial when he be­came the first man to dip below 44 sec­onds in the 400, 20 sec­onds in the 200m, and 10 sec­onds in the 100m 2016.

The pièce de ré­sis­tance of course came at the Rio Olympic Games where he smashed Amer­i­can icon John­son’s 400m world record with a time of 43.03 sec­onds.

Armed with a world ti­tle and record, an Olympic ti­tle, Van Niek­erk has fi­nally been given a li­cence to race the shorter sprint­ers. To add to his grow­ing leg­end, he set a new South African 200m record of 19.84 in Kingston, Ja­maica.

This year he knocked 0.04 off his 100m time when he clocked 9.94 in Ve­lenje to lift him­self to sec­ond place on the all-time South African list.

His abil­ity over three dis­tances had the world sali­vat­ing over the prospect of Bolt and Van Niek­erk lin­ing up against each other.

Van Niek­erk this week said he would have loved to go toeto-toe with the Ja­maican great but would now have to set­tle for reach­ing sim­i­lar great­ness.

“He is a great ath­lete but I know it would have been a tough race be­cause I would be do­ing 100s and 200s against him which is what he spe­cialises in while I still need to work on,” Van Niek­erk said.

“Even­tu­ally, I would like to reach the heights Usain has.”

The South African will first have to nav­i­gate the pres­sures of suc­cess­fully de­fend­ing his 400m ti­tle.

Break­ing his own world record has also been a top pri­or­ity for Van Niek­erk as the world dares to dream of a sub-43 sec­ond 400m.

Boast­ing the fastest time in the world this year of 43.62, Van Niek­erk will be look­ing to build on this aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity.

His per­for­mances over the last three years have seen an in­crease in com­par­isons be­tween Van Niek­erk and Bolt with the South African look­ing in­creas­ingly com­fort­able in the lime­light.

“It shows the pos­i­tive di­rec­tion as an ath­lete, all of us have to have a lot or re­spect for Usain Bolt and all of us have gained a lot of in­spi­ra­tion and mo­ti­va­tion from what he has done for track and field,” Van Niek­erk said.

“It is a mas­sive one for me to be men­tioned in the light I am right now and it is def­i­nitely an area I need to ex­cept and take the re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“I’m not some­one who likes wast­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and at the same time I am a com­peti­tor, I love com­pet­ing and that is what makes me go.”

A dou­ble gold would edge Van Niek­erk a lit­tle bit closer to the same leg­endary sta­tus.

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