The two superstars of SA athletics Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya would have arrived in Eugene, Oregon, last week with very different goals for the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field.
Cape Town – In their prime, Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya would have guaranteed two medals in the 400 and 800 metres respectively for South Africa at any major event.
But the two superstars of SA athletics would have arrived in Eugene, Oregon, last week with very different goals for the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field.
Van Niekerk is still trying to get back to his best following a nightmare time with injuries since THAT touch rugby match at Newlands in October 2017.
Having celebrated his 30th birthday last Friday, though, Van Niekerk gave himself a nice little present by cruising in his 400m first-round heat at the world championships on Sunday to advance to the semi-finals.
The Rio Olympic champion and world record holder stopped the clock in a solid 45.18 seconds, having gone out quickly and paced himself well towards the end to win the race.
“I need to open up my legs a little bit to get my muscles going, and see what I need to work on before I get to the semi-final,” Van Niekerk was reported as saying afterwards.
“I feel much, much better but obviously my mentality is to get into the finals and see what happens.”
Now he will line up in the semi-finals tonight (Thursday 4.31am SA time), and the main aim will be to get through to the final.
Van Niekerk was unable to do so in last year’s Tokyo Olympics, but he looks in much better shape in Oregon.
He has had a difficult season, but proved that he was ready for the world championships by running a strong 44.58sec at a meeting in Marietta, Georgia on July 2.
It won’t be easy in his semi-final as he has to finish in the top two to attain automatic qualification for the final, with the two “fastest losers” across the three semi-finals also going through to Friday night’s final (Saturday 4.35am SA time).
Van Niekerk will come up against two men who have run faster than him this year – American star Champion Allison, who has a blisteringly quick 43.70 season’s best (the second-fastest in 2022), and Jonathan Jones of Barbados, who’s 2022 best is 44.43.
So, the South African will most likely have to go faster than his season’s best of 44.58 just to make the final, and he is helped by the fact that reigning Olympic and world champion Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas is out with an injury.
A second SA 400m athlete, Zakithi Nene, will run in the first semi-final (Thursday 4.15am SA time) and come face-to-face with American favourite Michael Norman, who has the world lead this year of 43.56.
Nene’s personal best is 44.92, which he set this year, and he will also have to go faster than that to advance to the final.
It will be an uphill battle for Semenya to get through her women’s 5,000m heat this afternoon (Thursday 1.25am SA time) and qualify for the final.
The three-time 800m world champion was invited by World Athletics to participate in Oregon after being unable to run the qualifying time of 15min 10sec, with her personal best at 15:31.50.
So Semenya will hope for a tactical race instead of a fast heat, so that she can call on all her experience at big events in order to reach the final.