JOHANNESBURG – On the track, Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt were fierce rivals, but they also seem to hold opposing views about whether South Africa’s world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk is indeed a sprinter.
Gatlin, who is in the country for the Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix meeting on Thursday, has revealed he is “definitely a fan” of the South African sensation.
During his visit to South Africa in January, Bolt threw some shade at Van Niekerk, questioning whether the two-time world champion was a sprinter in the true sense of the word.
“He is not really a sprinter, is he? He wants to be a sprinter, but he is not really a sprinter,” Bolt said in a light-hearted exchange with the MC. “Talk to his coach and hear what his coach says.”
Bolt, the eight-time Olympic sprint gold medallist, had Gatlin’s number in the short sprint over the last seven years they competed against each other.
Gatlin finally got revenge on Bolt at last year’s IAAF World Championships, where he spoilt the Jamaican sprinting legend’s retirement party in the 100m final winning his first global title since 2005.
Asked whether he shared Bolt’s sentiment that Van Niekerk was not really a sprinter, Gatlin answered emphatically at a press conference on Wednesday.
“When you run the world record in the 400m from lane eight, you can be whatever you want to be! If he comes out and says he is a javelin-thrower, hey, I am waiting at the javelin line to see what he is going to do,” Gatlin said.
“There are different kinds of sprinters – there is the pure speed, you have your speed-endurance, you have straight endurance and power.”
Gatlin waxed lyrically about Van Niekerk’s one-lap sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where he smashed American icon Michael Johnson’s record with a time of 43.03 seconds.
“It is just poetry in motion watching him run, I can tell you that. Watching him coming down that straightway, it is just seared into my mind,” Gatlin said. “It seems like he just glides like a gazelle when he is bringing it home, it is just amazing to watch.”
Van Niekerk is the only man to have produced sub-10, sub-20, sub-31 and sub-44 performances at 100m, 200m, 300m and 400m respectively.
He boasts a personal-best 100m time of 9.94 and the national half-lap record of 19.84 he set in Jamaica last year.