Wayde van Niekerk in full flight during the 400m final. Photo: EPA
Wayde van Niekerk in full flight during the 400m final. Photo: EPA
Wayde van Niekerk was all smiles after defending his 400m world title. Photo: EPA
Wayde van Niekerk was all smiles after defending his 400m world title. Photo: EPA
World champion Wayde van Niekerk crosses the line well ahead of the rest of the field. Photo: Reuters
World champion Wayde van Niekerk crosses the line well ahead of the rest of the field. Photo: Reuters

LONDON – It was the closest thing to being a walk in the park as Wayde van Niekerk defended his 400m world title on Tuesday night, edging him closer to a rare 200m-400m golden double at the IAAF World Championships. 

The South African hardly had to exert himself as he crossed the line in a time of 43.98 seconds, with his nearest rival following four metres behind.

Rising Bahamian star Steven Gardiner bagged the silver medal in a time of 44.41, with Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun finishing third in 44.48.

The victory got Van Niekerk one step closer to becoming the first man since American icon Michael Johnson at Gothenburg 1995 to win the 200m-400m double gold.

Van Niekerk became only the second South African to successfully defend a world title after Hestrie Cloete, who led the way with her two golds in the high jump in 2001 and 2003.

“It is amazing to win the world title. It is a blessing. I hope the fans enjoyed that. I’m used to the lactic (acid in the legs), but I need a few minutes to recover from that effort and I’ll be fine,” Van Niekerk said after the race.

“I’ve got a good team who will help me recover well for the 200m, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Two years ago, an exhausted Van Niekerk collapsed on the track of the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing to claim South Africa’s first 400m world title.

On Tuesday night in London, a sanguine-looking Van Niekerk sat quietly in the call room before he ran out on to the track, and then walked most of the way to the starting blocks. 

The seventh lane outside Van Niekerk was left empty after Botswana dangerman Isaac Makwala withdrew due to an illness.

Makwala had been under a 48-hour quarantine following a confirmed outbreak of norovirus among athletes at the championships.

“We have so far been made aware of approximately 30 people reporting illness, and two of these cases have been confirmed as norovirus by laboratory testing,” said Dr Deborah Turbitt, the London deputy director for health protection at Public Health England (PHE).

“PHE has been working closely with the London 2017 organisers, and the hotel to provide infection control advice to limit the spread of illness.”

The IAAF said a number of cases of gastroenteritis had reported by team members residing within one of the official team hotels for the world championships. 

Defending champion Wayde van Niekerk celebrates his victory on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Justine Palframan advanced to the women’s 200m semi-final, sneaking through as one of the non-automatic qualifiers.

The 2015 World University Games 400m champion finished fourth in her heat on Tuesday, crossing the line in a time of 23.35 seconds. 

Palframan believed she had a few improvements to make as she headed into the half-lap sprint semi-final.

“It would have been nice to be automatically through, but I really did enjoy the race and that is what I came to do. I wanted to smile, and I am smiling,” Palframan said.

“I know what went wrong because I could feel I was asleep for certain parts of the race, so there are things to fix.”

South Africa’s other competitor on Tuesday, Wenda Nel, just missed out on a place in the 400m hurdles final.

Nel finished third in her semi-final in 55.70, and with the top two in each semi qualifying automatically, she had to wait for the last race to see if she would go through.

But her time listed her in 10th place in the end, with only the top eight advancing.

 

IOL Sport