Cape Town – It seems like every time Wayde van Niekerk steps on to a track, he makes history, and it was the case once more at the Racers Grand Prix in Jamaica on Saturday night.
All the hype in the build-up was about how Van Niekerk, as well as Akani Simbine and another South African in Justine Palframan, trained with Usain Bolt and his Racers club in Kingston, Jamaica this past week.
And the experience of rubbing shoulders with the fastest man in the world appeared to have inspired Van Niekerk as the 23-year-old world champion powered to the third-best ever 300m time of 31.03 – smashing his previous best of 31.63 – in beating American star LaShawn Merritt at the National Stadium in Kingston.
Van Niekerk’s mark is not far behind the best 300m time (it’s not a world record as it’s not a regular event) of 30.85 set by American great Michael Johnson in Pretoria in 2000, with Bolt in second at 30.97.
The Cape Town-born speedster is also the only athlete to have run the 100m in under 10 seconds (9.98), 200m sub-20 (19.94) and 400m sub-44 (43.48).
The likes of Botswana’s Isaac Makwala and Merritt had good starts, but once the field reached the final bend, Van Niekerk exploded away and held off Merritt (31.23) in the last 20 metres to win by a clear two-tenths of a second. Makwala faded to fifth in 31.91.
“Another opportunity to better myself and ran the 3rd fastest 300m time behind two legends of the sport,” Van Niekerk said on Instagram afterwards.
“And competing against a current 400m legend (Merritt). Pushing ourselves for more and more. Truly grateful and humbled to be able to be part of this amazing journey.
He added on Twitter: “Racers meeting Jamaica insane atmosphere. The race was so close.”
South African 100m record holder Simbine was also in fine form as he went head-to-head with Bolt, as well as a number of other top Jamaican athletes. Although he ended fifth, he produced an excellent time of 10.01.
But it was all about Bolt, and even after a stereotypical poor start and slip in the early stages, the big Jamaican recovered to glide past countrymen Nickel Ashmeade (9.94), Yohan Blake (9.94) and Asafa Powell (9.98) to win in 9.88, his fastest time of the year and just outside Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut’s 2016 world lead of 9.86.
“I almost fall over. I was trying to control it, but it’s just one of those things, comes and goes. I think I dragged my foot too high and it kind of propelled me forward, and then I just tried to carry myself and not panic, and made my way through,” Bolt said in a TV interview.
“For me, it was exciting (to come back from such a start). I was happy to compete against them (Blake and Powell) because it gives you a head-start, I would say, to see where you are ahead of the trials and what you need to work on.”
Palframan struggled to get going in the women’s 400m, though, as she ended seventh in 53.01 behind Jamaican winner Shericka Jackson (50.72).
Other notable performances came from 400m hurdler Johnny Dutch, who improved his own world-leading time to 48.10, while Jamaican champion sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce continued her comeback from injury by winning the 100m in 11.09.
There were also new national records in the two respective 200m races, with Antigua’s Miguel Francis running a blistering 19.88, while Shaunae Miller improved the Bahama’s mark to 22.05 in the women’s event.
1 Usain Bolt (Jamaica) 9.88
2 Nickel Ashmeade (Jamaica) 9.94
3 Yohan Blake (Jamaica) 9.94
6 Akani Simbine (RSA) 10.01
1 Miguel Francis (Antigua) 19.88
2 Julian Forte (Jamaica) 20.18
3 Warren Weir (Jamaica) 20.32
1 Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) 31.03
2 LaShawn Merritt (USA) 31.23
3 Tony McQuay (USA) 31.64
5 Isaac Makwala 31.91
1 Machel Cedenio (Trinidad & Tobago) 44.37
2 Bralon Taplin (Grenada) 44.76
3 Javon Francis (Jamaica) 44.81
Men’s 400m Hurdles
1 Johnny Dutch (USA) 48.10
2 Roxroy Cato (Jamaica) 48.98
3 Annsert Whyte (Jamaica) 49.25
1 Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica) 11.09
2 Barbara Pierre (USA) 11.11
3 Kelly-Ann Baptiste (Trinidad & Tobago) 11.15
1 Shaunae Miller (Bahamas) 22.05
2 Jenna Prandini (USA) 22.39
3 Audra Segree (Jamaica) 22.89
1 Shericka Jackson (Jamaica) 50.72
2 Christine Day (Jamaica) 51.22
3 Ebony Eutsey (USA) 51.39
7 Justine Palframan (RSA) 53.01