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Wayde in a tight race to qualify for Olympics

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Wayde van Niekerk the 400m Rio 2016 champion and world record-holder, as it stands, has not run a qualifying time for the 400m of 44.90 seconds, nor the 200m (20.24). Or even the 100m (10.05).

FILE – Wayde van Niekerk. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

CAPE TOWN – WILL Wayde van Niekerk be ready for the Tokyo Olympics? Well, he hasn’t even qualified yet …

Yes, the 400m Rio 2016 champion and world record-holder, as it stands, has not run a qualifying time for the 400m of 44.90 seconds, nor the 200m (20.24). Or even the 100m (10.05).

At the moment, South Africa have Akani Simbine and Gift Leotlela in the 100m, and Clarence Munyai in the 200m heading for Tokyo.

Of course, the 4x100m relay team have also made it to Japan, but there is no guarantee that Van Niekerk will be part of that squad as he has not been available for them up to now.

So, Sunday night’s drama at the Adidas Boost Games in Boston came at a tricky time for the 28-year-old. Van Niekerk has not yet run any 400m race in 2021, with new coach Lance Brauman asking him to concentrate on the 200m up to now.

Van Niekerk joined the training group in Florida earlier this month, and had been working hard ahead of his latest 200m event in Boston. He looked in good shape, steadily building his speed up from the starting blocks and claiming the lead ahead of Britain’s Zharnel Hughes.

Just as he reached the 150m mark, the 2017 world champion pulled up suddenly, and jogged to the line to end fourth in 20.86 before hobbling and sitting down on the track.

ALSO READ: Wayde: I tightened up a bit

Seen speaking to Brauman afterwards, Van Niekerk pointed to his right hip, and took to social media to allay any fears of a serious injury.

“Thanks for the care – I am well. Nothing serious. I tightened up a bit, so didn’t push it,” he posted, with American TV broadcaster Lewis Johnson saying later that Van Niekerk had “walked back to the hotel without that initial limp you saw on TV.”

But time is running out for Van Niekerk to run a qualifying time. He has until 29 June to do so, and will hope that the hip issue doesn’t become problematic. While he said that it was “nothing serious”, the only assurance of that will be when he gets back on to the track.

There was no further injury update from the Van Niekerk camp late yesterday, and it is unclear when he will compete again. His agent Peet van Zyl told Independent Media last week that after the Boston event, there was a plan to stage a 400m race in Florida this week, which would’ve been Van Niekerk’s first one-lap competition in 2021.

But that may be in doubt now. There are Diamond League meetings coming up, with Doha on Friday, followed by Rome on 10 June, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not recommended travel from the United States to either Qatar nor Italy as their Covid-19 level is at four, which is “very high”.

The African athletics championships would also be an opportunity for Van Niekerk to run a qualifying time and get some much-needed races under his belt.

@ashfakMohamed