In the first official meeting in South Africa since the enforced coronavirus lockdown, Van Niekerk appeared to have a few issues with his starting blocks just before the race.
CAPE TOWN – He was made to work hard for it, but in the end, Wayde van Niekerk showed his class to cruise to victory in the 400m at a local meeting in Potchefstroom on Tuesday afternoon.
The reigning Olympic champion and world record-holder was hampered right at the start of his race as he continued his comeback to peak fitness following a 25-day isolation period in Italy due to a positive Covid-19 test.
In the first official meeting in South Africa since the enforced coronavirus lockdown, Van Niekerk appeared to have a few issues with his starting blocks just before the race. He wasn’t happy with the one that was in his lane, and walked over to an unused outside lane, picked up those blocks and moved it to his lane five.
Once he exploded up from the ground, though, he slipped – which the stadium announcer later attributed to the block breaking.
But the 28-year-old regained his composure, and after the 150-metre mark, he was already up to the pace of the rest of the field, which featured the likes of experienced local athletes Pieter Conradie and Gideon Trotter.
As Van Niekerk took the final bend, though, he still had to contend with Zakhiti Nene – who was part of the SA 4x400m relay team that won a silver medal at the 2019 World University Games in Napoli.
The two-time world champion had enough left in the tank to hold off Nene to win in a time of 45.89 seconds, which was a bit slower than the 45.58 he ran in Switzerland in his previous race – although it was still a good effort, considering the starting block problems.
Van Niekerk soon sat down to regain his breath, but quickly got up to acknowledge the other athletes and officials present at the NWU McArthur Stadium, before spending some more time laying down on the track.
He is working hard to get into shape for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and said on social media on Monday: “With me not being fully satisfied with my comeback this year due to me being diagnosed with Covid-19 and not being able to participate in the races I would’ve like to, I’m grateful to Athletics Northwest for hosting an event for athletes to compete competitively again
“I am looking forward to competing tomorrow evening in the 400m event and excited to see how my body feels again in a race situation.
“This will give me a great indication to see where I am at in my training and what needs to be done to get into a positive momentum physically and mentally towards 2021.”