Willing and able to be the heir to Usain Bolt’s throne as sprinting king, Wayde van Niekerk knows full well it will not be handed to him on a platter.
Speaking ahead of the Lausanne Diamond League meeting tonight, where he will be racing his first international 400m of the season, Van Niekerk said the year was about honouring Bolt for his legacy.
“Obviously as the new generation I would like to take the baton and continue doing great things,” Van Niekerk said. “With that comes a lot of hard work and years, so I know for me right now is to focus on my performances and try and pull out good times.”
The 400m world record-holder has been showing improvement in the shorter distances, racing to new personal bests in the 100, 200, and 300m so far this season.
Van Niekerk sprinted to a new SA 200m record of 19.84 in Jamaica last month before shaving 0.04 off his 100m time of 9.94 in Velenje, 10 days later. Last week he posted a new 300m world best of 30.81 seconds at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting.
The South African has proven that one can expect the ‘ridiculous’ every time he backs into the blocks. The athletics world’s eyes will be firmly on the clock in Lausanne.
“I feel quite confident on how I’ve been performing so far, I definitely know I am in good shape when it comes to every single distance below 400 metres,” Van Niekerk said. “I’m excited to see what foot will come first and how I will do, but you know me by now, I will put my best foot forward and try and put on a good show.”
Five more South Africans will be in action in the Swiss city, including Rio Olympics women’s javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen who has been flying below the radar this season; she will be competing in only her fifth meeting of the year. Her season’s best of 63.49m from the national championships in Potchefstroom in April ranks her 11th in the world and she would be looking to take some form into the world championships.
SA short-sprint specialists Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies will have a second bite at the 100m cherry two days after racing in Budapest.
Simbine narrowly missed out on the top step of the podium when former world champion Justin Gatlin beat him to the line by 0.01 with Bruintjies missing out on a medal by the same margin. South African record-holder Simbine posted his 14th sub-10 second time for his second place with Bruintjies clocking a creditable 10.11.
The duo will again line up against Gatlin and fellow American Isiah Young, who finished third in the 100m race in Budapest.
The South African contingent is rounded off by one-lap hurdlers LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks as they look to chase down the A-qualifying standard for the world championships.
They will have to dip well below 49 seconds to earn their places of the global showpiece, with the standard set at 48.50.
Van Zyl has a season’s best of 49.29 while Fredericks’ fastest time this year is 49.27.