LONDON - Domine, dirige nos. Lord, guide us, reads the English translation of the Latin motto for the City of London but is also similar to the prayer Wayde van Niekerk said before he raced to his second world 400m title in the English capital.
As part of his pre-race routine, Van Niekerk goes down on one knee, praying he and the rest of the field finish in one piece.
Van Niekerk and his fellow finalists safely navigated their way over the line in Tuesday night’s one-lap final as he became only the second South African after Hestrie Cloete’s high-jump double in 2001 and 2003 to defend a world title.
“I’m just glad things worked out for us before the race; it is one thing believing you can get the gold medal and it is a different thing actually going out there and producing it,” Van Niekerk said.
“I know it was never going to be a walk in the park, as the competition is always going to be stiff - especially nowadays in the 400 metres. It is a day by day competition and anyone can come up with any result on the day so I am just so grateful that I can say I came through with the gold yet again.”
One of the most anticipated races at the biennial showpiece came to an almost anti-climactic finish as the South African won the title in almost a canter, crossing the line in a time of 43.98 seconds.
There was no wow-moment, no excitement as the South African gave the packed Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium a muted celebration.
Taking his foot off the gas over the final 30 metres, Van Niekerk was followed by Bahamian athlete Steven Gardiner in silver clocking 44.41 with Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun third in 44.48.
The empty lane next to Van Niekerk may have had something to do with the lack of excitement in a race that only two years ago sparked a frenzy over the rise of Van Niekerk, one of the world’s newest superstars.
That seventh lane belonged to Botswana Isaac Makwala, who was controversially denied entry to the stadium after he was placed under 48 hours quarantine following a confirmed outbreak of norovirus among athletes at the championships.
Makwala came to the stadium on Tuesday insisting he was fit to compete but IAAF officials blocked him from entering.
The Motswana athlete was tipped to be Van Niekerk’s biggest rival as he was targeting his own 200-400m double after boasting the fastest 200m and second best 400m time in the world this year.
Asked about Makwala’s absence from the race, the ever-diplomatic Van Niekerk expressed sympathy for his Southern African neighbour.
“It was definitely a heartbreaking moment. It is now two good competitors this year, Kirani James and Isaac, having to withdraw through illnesses," he said.
“I’d have loved for Isaac to have had his opportunity, he would have done very well.
I’ve got so much sympathy for him. I wish I could even give him my medal but this is sports, these things happen and each and every one of us needs to go out and fight and make the most of our opportunities.”