Home Sport FEATURE: Wayde still holds hope of reaching former heights

FEATURE: Wayde still holds hope of reaching former heights

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Wayde van Niekerk (123) runs the Men Senior 200m during the 2021 ASA Senior Track and Field Champs at Tuks Stadium in Pretoria on the 17 April 2021 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Not too many, aside from the 29-year-old Van Niekerk’s ardent supporters, believe he can regain his former brilliance over one lap of the tartan track.

JOHANNESBURG – Despite a result at the Tokyo Olympics a world away from his performance five years ago at the Rio Games, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk will still believe he can compete, and beat, the best 400m runners on the international stage again.

Not too many, aside from the 29-year-old Van Niekerk’s ardent supporters, believe he can regain his former brilliance over one lap of the tartan track.

Van Niekerk’s crowning glory came at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when he stormed to gold in the men’s 400m in a new world record time of 43.03 seconds. In Tokyo earlier this month, Van Nierkerk was unable to break 45 as he failed to make the final of the 400m.

When Van Niekerk set the world record in 2016, he had just turned 24 and had the world at his feet. That year he also became the first person to have run the 100m in under 10 seconds, the 200m in under 20 seconds and the 400m in under 44 seconds.

Wayde van Niekerk wins the mens 200m final in 19.90 seconds during day 2 of the 2017 ASA Championships at Puk McArthur Stadium, Potchefstroom on 22 April 2017. Picture: Roger Sedres, BackpagePix

Following his victory in Rio, much of the talk centred around when, and not if, he could break 43 seconds for 400m.

His world would, however, come crashing down on October 31 back in 2017. That day he took part in a celebrity touch rugby match. While running with the ball, he simply twisted the wrong way, but in so doing – seriously damaged his knee ligaments and his future in athletics.

Wayde van Niekerk plays in a celebrity touch rugby game before the 2017 Castle Lager Rugby Championship game between South Africa and New Zealand at Newlands Rugby Stadium on 7 October 2017. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

Immediate surgery and months of rehabilitation would follow, and he only returned to international competition again three years later – hardly the preparation he would have once envisioned for his Olympic title defence.

Interestingly, Van Niekerk is the cousin of World Cup-winning Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe – and the yearning to show what he too could do on a rugby field may have been to blame – not that his rugby ability matters as the best 400m runner the world has ever seen.

Heading to Tokyo, Van Niekerk said: “I believe the door is wide open for me to go out and win the gold medal. Why am I here if I am not going to dream and push towards something that I’ve actually done before?”

In hindsight it may have been a dream for Van Niekerk, as he had no choice but to believe he still had the fitness and strength needed to be successful again. In fact, it was an achievement just to qualify for the Olympics and then make it to the semi-finals.

But his season’s best 44.56, would have only been good enough for sixth place in the final in Tokyo.

Van Niekerk justifiably becomes defensive when questioned about his decision to play touch rugby almost four years ago, as he has no choice but to put that ill-fated day behind him.

It allows him to look forward to a future in which he can excel at the highest level again, but in reality each passing day the odds against his comeback became greater.

African News Agency (ANA)

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