My 2020 movie continues, says determined van Niekerk
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CAPE TOWN - For some of the best athletes in the world, you can never start early enough when getting ready for a big event.
That is ringing true for Wayde van Niekerk at the moment. It would have been easy for the 400m world record-holder to take it easy for the rest of 2020, and begin his journey to next year’s Tokyo Olympics in January.
After all, he had a nightmare experience in Europe over the last few months, which saw him ruled out of action due to a Covid-19 positive test result.
Van Niekerk had to spend 25 days in self-isolation in Italy, where he was unable to train or work with his coach Tannie Ans Botha, or visit other South African stars such as Akani Simbine and Ruswahl Samaai. He eventually won a 400m race in Switzerland in September.
The fact that he didn’t immediately come home speaks volumes of his determination to work towards reaching the heights of 2016, when he finally cracked Michael Johnson’s 400m world record of 43.18 by clocking 43.03 and winning Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.
The two-year layoff due to a knee injury sustained in a celebrity touch rugby match at Newlands was a dark time for Van Niekerk, but now his recovery is on track at long last.
His appearance in Potchefstroom at a meeting organised by Athletics Central North West on Tuesday was still a surprise, though, as the 400m heats at the Tokyo Olympics only starts on August 1.
He ran a time of 45.89 seconds, and held off youngster Zakithi Nene close to the finish line after slipping at the beginning due to a broken starting block.
“I tried to start strong, and obviously things didn’t work out the way I would’ve liked them to. But this happens – my 2020 movie goes on! So, I will just continue being the star of this movie,” Van Niekerk said with a smile after the race.
“It was a bit frustrating: the last 150 got the best of me. The young man (Zakhithi Nene) on the outside of me put up quite a fight. I thought I could kick and open up from him, but he put up quite a fight and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’m glad that we are getting some guys eager to fight and putting me under pressure.”
The 28-year-old is done with 2020 yet, and said that he will return to Potchefstroom for races over the next two weeks.
While he feels he is aware of the issues that hampered him on Tuesday, the bigger picture of Tokyo is at the back of his mind.
“I wanted to do a nice quality race, and not being able to race since Europe until now, it would’ve been nice – who knows, maybe I decide to do another one (400m). Let’s see how training goes and then I’ll make up my mind,” Van Niekerk said.
Far from satisfied with tonight's performance, but a lot closer to where I want to be. It will come together at the perfect time.— Wayde van Niekerk (@WaydeDreamer) November 3, 2020
God is Good@adidas @adidasrunning @Richard_Mille #Fifteen27 #QuietStorm #Forty3 #Pray1st pic.twitter.com/Bk5cjRcVNF
“But I’d like to come back again next week (to Potchefstroom) and maybe the week after that. I need to get some races in my legs, just to get that nerves and that momentum into my mind and my body so that I can get back to that racing scenario, and get that emotions back so that I’m prepped for next year.
“Hopefully I can have more challenges like that to mentally get myself past the barrier that I’m trying to break through, to get myself obviously into that international sphere, because I haven’t competed in the longest of time. It’s nice now to just get some races in the legs, and just challenging the legs to get tired.”