When you are the fastest man ever around a single track, patience is certainly a virtue – but when you are constantly chasing your place in history it is worth the wait.
It has been seven months since the 400m world record-holder had an operation on a busted right knee.
“I’ve got time to do it right, I don’t have to rush any process, I don’t have to try and put me through any different strain than what it’s already going through so I can basically be patient and allow my body to heal on its own,” Van Niekerk said at the premiere of his documentary in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“Once the body’s healed I can come back a stronger athlete.”
Van Niekerk had initially expressed his hope of settling into the blocks towards the end of this year, but South Africans can only expect to see him back in action in 2019.
The good news is that he is entering the final phase of his rehabilitation, though he still experienced some pain in his troublesome knee.
“We’re giving me another two to three months before I start running again so let’s see how the rehab goes,” Van Niekerk said.
“I go back again late August, early September to do another few tests and those will dictate whether I can start slowly but surely be running again, but I’m sure we’ll introduce a bit now in the next few weeks and just test the body and feel what types of strain I can take.”
Van Niekerk was bullish about the progress of his rehabilitation which he said started out slowly but has been gaining speed.
The superstar has been treated by some of the world’s best medical experts, with world-renowned complex knee specialist Robert LaPrade overseeing the operation.
He has made regular trips to Doha for rehabilitation under the guidance of Dr Louis Holtzhausen, who looked after Van Niekerk in Bloemfontein for years.
“I’ve been listening to my body step by step each and every day,” Van Niekerk said.
“The first few months was a bit slow and now these last few months I’ve been going quite quickly so to me it’s really about listening to what my body can handle.
“I’m not totally pain-free yet, so until I’m pain-free that’s when I’ll start taking massive steps towards getting back to competition again.”
While the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing and shining brighter, it does not mean the process did not take its toll on the star athlete.
“It was definitely one of the most challenging moments of my life being on the high that I was on but luckily I dwelled on it too much,” he said.
“From the operation, I decided to work and I’ve been going from strength to strength, looking at the improvements and the signs, the results that have been coming out, I feel very confident and positive in coming back a stronger athlete.”
As the itch intensifies so does Van Niekerk’s drive towards more record-breaking runs as he aims to become the first man to break through 43 seconds over the one-lap sprint.
“It’s very intense (the itch), watching the documentary, seeing where I left off I have massive expectations I have on myself and I want to carry on to that immediately after the injury and I want to definitely continue improving me as an athlete,” Van Niekerk said.
“I know what I’m capable of, I know what I need to do when I get back to the field and goal is definitely 42 (seconds) so for me my mind isn’t even at 43 anymore, I’m a 42 athlete.”
With next year’s IAAF World Championships in Doha only scheduled for the end of September, there is no reason to rush Van Niekerk back onto the track.
Some may even argue that the real goal should be the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with 2019 serving as a year to get the Bloem sprinter in the best possible shape.@ockertde