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I have work to do on the last 100, says Wayde after Kirani contest

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‘I’m trying to find the right motivation, and seek a little bit of growth each day,’ said 2016 Rio Olympics champion Wayde van Niekerk after running in his first 400m race of the year in New York.

‘The race (at the Paris Olympics) is so wide open right now,’ said Wayde van Niekerk (left). Picture: Reuters

THEY were two Olympic champions going toe-to-toe, and there had to be a winner.

But the battle between Wayde van Niekerk and Kirani James in the 400m event at the New York City Grand Prix at the weekend was one to savour, proving that there is still some fight in these legends’ legs at the age of 31 ahead of the Paris Olympics.

South African star Van Niekerk – the Rio 2016 champion – ran his first individual 400m race of 2024, and clocked a solid 44.74 seconds to finish third, behind Grenada athlete James – the London 2012 gold medallist – who won in 44.55, with American Chris Bailey snatching second in 44.73.

It was a well-measured run at the Icahn Stadium by Van Niekerk, who held his fire over the first 300m as James roared out of the blocks to take the lead.

Trinidad’s Jereem Richards and American Matthew Boling were also in the mix as they closed in on the final bend for the last 100m, but it was Richards and then Van Niekerk who surged forward.

James, though, showed his sheer strength to power past his rivals, and he took the honours ahead of a fast-finishing Bailey, with Van Niekerk third and Richards fourth in 44.82, and Boling fifth in 45.08.

“Kirani, why didn’t you wait for me?” a sweating Van Niekerk asked James after the New York race in an interview with Citius Mag.

“I tried to, but I was worried about you because I know if I had to wait for you, if you’re in front, I can’t catch you,” James replied, to which Van Niekerk responded: “Last 100, we were there (together), and I thought ‘okay, we are going to help each other’, but it didn’t work.”

More importantly for Van Niekerk was the fact that he completed the race in a decent time, having had to recover from a back problem that saw him withdraw from a 200m race in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

Now it’s about ironing out his finish in his last few races before he lines up at the Stade de France in August.

“Jereem (Richards) kind of called it way beforehand … We were all coming out of the last 100 together, so when we got to the 100 and I saw we were all dead-even, I knew it’s a fight to the finish,” Van Niekerk said.

“That is one of the areas I’ve been working on at training, and it shows me that I still have some work to do on the last 100.

“The last two weeks was a good one. I could put in some solid efforts – had a solid two weeks of training – so I’m really positive about that.

“The body feels healthy … Didn’t feel totally 100%, but I finished a race against world-class competitors, and it was a fight to the finish.

“So, I think it’s a good indication to what I’ve been doing at training, and also gives me a good indication of what to do to go forward.

“The race (at the Olympics) is so wide open right now. Last year I was world No 1 the entire season through, and got to the world championships and just couldn’t pull it through.

“So, it’s really just about managing it and seeing what version of myself gets there (to the Paris Olympics). I really just want to stay healthy and get good rest in, and then see where it goes from there.”

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