Ending last season with a memorable victory over Kirani James has inspired Wayde van Niekerk to push even harder for his ultimate goal: breaking the 43-second barrier in the 400m.
Cape Town – Ending last season with a memorable victory over Kirani James has inspired Wayde van Niekerk to push even harder for his ultimate goal: breaking the 43-second barrier in the 400m.
The Olympic gold medalist from the 2016 Rio Games has had a difficult few years, but appeared to be getting back to his best in 2022.
He reached the 400m final at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon – having missed out on the decider at the Tokyo Olympics – and despite not clinching a medal, the South African star finished fifth in a time of 44.97 seconds.
But the best moment of 2022 came in September at the Gala dei Castelli event in Switzerland, where Van Niekerk posted a season’s best time of 44.33 and beat Grenada’s James in the process as well.
Since then, he has been hard at work in training under American coach Lance Brauman in Florida in preparation for his 2023 opener at the South African championships in Potchefstroom from March 30-April 1.
He suggested on Instagram this week that he is likely to contest his specialist 400m event, posting a caption with pictures of him on the track: “Some final work building up to the national championships 2023 … Returning to the 400m for the first time since 2016? Let’s have some fun.
“Important week. Get work done! Actually looking forward to race again. Countdown to national champs 2023.”
In an interview with the Olympics.com website this week, the 30-year-old sprinter said he was in a good space for the new season.
“Finishing off my season with that time (44.33) was obviously a big confidence-booster, and I felt comfortable. It set me up quite well for the off-season, and the season we are about to enter. I see it as a positive stepping stone to help me move forward,” Van Niekerk said.
“It definitely felt good to be in the mix again and competing against the best in the world. I know that is exactly where I need to be and the competition I need to be exposed to.
“I was very excited and looking forward to competing against everyone again. It has set me up quite well for the upcoming season.
“I use every day as an opportunity to improve and strengthen myself.
I am looking forward to competing this upcoming season, and exposing myself to more and more races so that my body can adapt and be ready for whatever the demand is expected.
“Tokyo was a big disappointment, and last year, I was in the world championship final. So every year I see progress and improvement. I have to believe that this year will bring more improvement, and I am looking forward to Paris 2024.
“Hopefully, I will be exactly where I picture myself in the next
Olympic Games, ensuring I am ready when the gun goes. I am fully invested and committed in training and what is expected from me.”
With his world record at 43.03 – set during that unforgettable run from lane eight at the Rio Olympics – Van Niekerk will be hard-pressed to beat that time.
But almost nobody expected him to beat Michael Johnson’s mark of 43.18, so he knows what is required to set new standards.
There is another world championship looming in Budapest, Hungary in August, and that could be the ideal occasion for Van Niekerk to make a huge statement ahead of the Paris Olympics.
“When I speak about personal growth, breaking the record and going sub43 is the next step in the 400m, and that would be the natural move for me when it comes to growth,” he said.
“I am still in the sport because I believe I have room for growth and can improve. I guess that the mentality at the moment is to improve.
“I want to be back on the podium and get back to winning gold medals and challenging world records.
“That has always been my goal – that has always been what I am looking forward to, and with that comes competition and challenges from various competitors. To get myself to the top, I have to start winning, which is a key focus for my upcoming competitions.
“I’ve experienced gold medals, and I have experienced a world record; I’ve experienced winning races, so that is where you want to be.”