It’s crunch time for SA superstar Wayde van Niekerk at World Athletics Championships

South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk and Britain's Matthew Hudson-Smith compete in the men's 400m heats during the World Athletics Championships at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest

Wayde van Niekerk will be focussed on making it through the men’s 400m semi-final unscathed at the World Athletics Championships on Tuesday evening. Picture: Jewel Samad/AFP

Published Aug 22, 2023


The time has come for Wayde van Niekerk to show that he’s back, as he lines up in the men’s 400m semi-finals at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Tuesday evening.

The two-time world champion Van Niekerk will compete in the first of three semi-final heats at 9pm SA time.

One would argue that Van Niekerk is already back, since his world ranking is back to number one. However, as an Olympic champion and world record holder - higher expectations are always demanded of the star athlete.

Van Niekerk is no spring chicken in athletics terms any more, now aged 31 and having also lost a good chunk of his peak years while recovering from a serious knee injury in 2017. Those facts will not be on his mind though, as his sole focus on Tuesday will be making it through his heat.

Like his 400m heat on Sunday, which he comfortably won in 44.57 seconds, he should have no problem in advancing.

The heat will see Van Niekerk start in lane eight, which is not ideal, but also the same lane in which he produced his world record 43.03 to win gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

It should be Van Niekerk and American Vernon Norwood taking the top two spots in their heat if everything goes to plan. Norwood is currently ranked third in the world and his season’s best 44.39 should see him push Van Niekerk for the win. In comparison, Van Niekerk’s season’s best is 44.08 - which he probably won’t plan on bettering in the semi - unless he is pushed by his competition.

That would ensure he is fresh for the final, and he can give everything in his quest for a third world title.

A strong performance at these World Championships, will do a lot for Van Niekerk’s confidence heading to the Paris Olympics next year. Realistically, given Van Niekerk’s age, 2024 will be Van Niekerk’s last shot at bagging another Olympic gold.

It’s with that in mind, that Van Niekerk is not getting ahead of himself just yet.

“Only time can tell when I get back where I was. We'll see what happens. Every opportunity to compete at this level is important. I'm just trying to keep a positive mindset with the Olympics coming up next year,” said Van Niekerk.

“Here, it's just about going round by round and seeing what happens. My body feels good, and the injury is all clear, 100 percent.”

With countryman Akani Simbine disqualified in the men’s 100m semi-final heats over the weekend, it leaves Van Niekerk as South Africa’s last genuine medal hope.