JOHANNESBURG – Kicking off a chock-a-block month of track and field, world 400m record-holder Wayde van Niekerk and short-sprint sensation Akani Simbine will line up at the Boston Games on Sunday.
The fleet-footed duo will be looking to set the pace for a host of South Africans that will line up in Prague at the Josef Odloil Memorial on Monday.
The Boston meeting will be Van Niekerk’s first international race of the season as he looks to convert his early domestic form on to the global stage when he lines up in the half-lap sprint.
The Olympic champion has been knocked off his perch world leader in the 200m this season after Christian Coleman clocked 19.85 seconds last weekend.
Van Niekerk raced to a new 200m personal best of 19.90 seconds to claim the national title in Potchefstroom recently, and has made changes to his training program for the half-lap event.
Van Niekerk will be looking to build confidence ahead of the IAAF World Championships in London in August where he will be attempting the 200-400m double.
On Sunday, he will get into the blocks against rising Bahamian star Steven Gardiner, who clocked the second fastest one-lap time so far, this season with a national record of 44.26 seconds.
“I’ve got this desire to do good in all three events (including the 4x400m relay), and I will have to put in that hard work – the only way to deal with the challenge is to face it head on,” Van Niekerk said.
The Boston race will offer a different experience as Van Niekerk will race on an elevated 200m straight track.
Simbine was initially meant to race against Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake as he looks to rein in the athletes that finished ahead of him in the 100m final at the Rio Olympic Games.
He will go into the five-lane race as the fastest man in the field with his national record of 9.89, while his season’s best of 9.92 is still the second best so far, this year.
Meanwhile, a strong South African field will be flying the flag in the Czech Republic on Monday, with Olympic javelin silver medalist Sunette Viljoen among the confirmed entrants.
Viljoen will open her international season after she withdrew from last weekend’s Eugene Diamond League meeting, where she will be looking to improve on her season’s best of 63.49m heave from the national championships in April.
Former national 100m record-holder Henricho Bruintjies and the country’s second fastest short-sprinter Thando Roto will open their international accounts in Prague.
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Roto has been one of the form South African sprinters this season racing to a new personal best of 9.95 which ranks him as the second fastest in the country behind Simbine.
“It is quite motivating and exciting knowing I had such a great domestic season, last year I didn’t have such a great season at home, but I felt I had a better one in Europe,” Roto said.
“So, I hope to pick up where I left off last year. Training has been going great so I am quite excited about what I can do on Monday and over the next six weeks.”
Bruintjies will have fond memories of Prague, where he posted his second fastest time of 10.06 back in 2015.
Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles champion Cornel Fredericks will make his second international appearance this season after finishing fifth at the Doha Diamond League last month.
The country’s top one-lap hurdler Wenda Nel will also line up in Prague.