Home Sport Wayde starts Olympic journey by tackling Kirani James

Wayde starts Olympic journey by tackling Kirani James

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Van Niekerk will face a top-class field, with his biggest rival being 2012 London Olympics champion Kirani James of Grenada.

Wayde Van Niekerk (RSA) competes in the Men’s 400m final during the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 at National Athletics Center in Budapest, Hungary, on August 24, 2023. File Picture: Jean-Marie Hervio, KMSP via AFP

WITH less than two months to go to the Paris Olympics, Wayde van Niekerk will finally start his journey to 400m glory once more at the New York City Grand Prix on Sunday.

The 31-year-old South African, who clocked the 400m world record of 43.03 seconds to clinch gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has not competed in a one-lap event this year.

He has had a few 200m races, most notably at the SA championships in Pietermaritzburg in April, when he finished second to youngster Benjamin Richardson in the final.

Van Niekerk’s fastest time in the half-lap sprint this year was that 20.31 in the SA final, which saw him trail 20-year-old Richardson, who took the honours in a new personal best effort of 20.16.

Van Niekerk was scheduled to compete in another 200m at the Atlanta City Games in late May, but withdrew just before the race with a minor back problem.

He has been out of action since, but will hope to produce a solid performance in his first 400m of 2024 in New York on Sunday.

Van Niekerk will face a top-class field, with his biggest rival being 2012 London Olympics champion Kirani James of Grenada.

James, also 31, who claimed a silver medal at Rio 2016 behind Van Niekerk and bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, has run a 44.58sec time in the 400m this year.

But most of the top athletes are only getting into their stride at this stage of the year as they are aiming to peak at the Paris Olympics, where the athletics competition will take place from August 1-10.

James’ 44.58 makes him the second-fastest athlete this year in the New York field, with American Chris Bailey the quickest at 44.42, which is also his personal best.

The other sub-45-second runner this year who will line up at the Icahn Stadium is another US competitor, Mathew Boling, who has clocked 44.98.

The experienced Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago, and American Elija Goodwin are the other athletes Van Niekerk will have to look out for.

The New York City Grand Prix will feature a number of the world’s top athletes.

On the men’s side, 100 and 200m world champion Noah Lyles will take part in his first 200m of the year, US star Fred Kerley will be the favourite in the 100m, and Kenya’s Olympic champion Emmanuel Korir will line up in the 800m.

The women’s events will see Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica square off with American Gabby Thomas in the 100m, while US 400m hurdles world record-holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone will contest the flat 400m.

Meanwhile, SA 100m sprinter Shaun Maswanganyi was surprisingly beaten in the 100 and 200m finals at the NCAA (US Collegiate) Championships in Eugene, Oregon, on Friday.

University of Houston athlete Maswanganyi, who was competing in his last NCAA competition, finished seventh in the 100m decider in 10.05sec, with English star Louie Hinchliffe, also of Houston, winning in a quick 9.95.

Maswanganyi ended sixth in the 200m final in 20.25, as Ivory Coast speedster Cheickna Traore of Pennsylvania State University grabbed gold in 19.95.

Maswanganyi said recently that he would compete in the African championships in Douala, Cameroon, from June 21-26.

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