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‘The king is back’: Wayde van Niekerk gets social media buzzing after superb SA champs run

Wayde van Niekerk on his way to winning the 400m title at the South African championships in Potchefstroom

Wayde van Niekerk on his way to winning the 400m title at the South African championships in Potchefstroom over the weekend. Picture: Cecilia van Bers/Athletics SA

Published Apr 3, 2023


Cape Town – “That’s why he the goat.” That was how 200m world champion Noah Lyles described his training partner Wayde van Niekerk’s outstanding performance at the South African championships in Potchefstroom at the weekend.

The 400m world record-holder got social media buzzing with his terrific winning time of 44.17 seconds at the NWU McArthur Stadium on Saturday as he turned up the heat in the last 100 metres to stride away from world junior champion Lythe Pillay, who also produced an excellent display to set a new personal best of 44.80 – which was also a world championship qualifying time.

Van Niekerk’s effort was his best since 2017, when he sustained a serious knee injury during a touch rugby match at Newlands stadium that has kept him on the sidelines for long periods over the last six years.

But it seems that the 2016 Olympic champion, who set a new world record of 43.03 in Rio de Janeiro, is finally in 100 percent shape again.

To put his 44.17 into context, it would have been the fourth-fastest time last year, behind American Michael Norman’s 43.56 – which won him the gold medal at the US championships in Eugene, Oregon – another US athlete, Champion Allison, who clocked 43.70 to claim the silver medal at the same event, and London Olympic winner Kirani James of Grenada, who ran 44.02.

“This is a massive jump for me, and hopefully I’ll continue going from strength to strength,” Van Niekerk said in a statement from Athletics South Africa.

“My body feels strong, and I’m handling the rounds well. There’s a holistic package I’m working on, and hopefully it will all come together at the World Championships later this year.”

The 30-year-old posted a series of pictures from his race on Instagram on Sunday, with the caption: “6 Year team effort!!! 44.17 season opener South Africa’s 400m sprints looking good!!!

“Congratulations @_lythe_ning_25 on your first sub 44. @gardeoisaacs & @zakithi_nene much respect gents”

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was among a number of sports stars to use emojis to congratulate Van Niekerk, including American women’s 100m hurdles world record-holder Keni Harrison, men’s 100m Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs – who also added a “wow” comment – and Pillay himself.

“That’s what I’m talking about @WaydeDreamer That’s why he the (goat emoji),” said Noah Lyles, who trains with Van Niekerk in Florida, while his brother Josephus Lyles – who is a 200m and 400m sprinter himself – simply said “The king”.

African 100m champion and continental record-holder Ferdinand Omanyala was trackside in Potchefstroom, and posted a video on his timeline interacting with Van Niekerk and SA 100m champion Akani Simbine. Omanyala is set to race in South Africa over the next few weeks, and replied to Van Niekerk’s post with: “So happy for you brother.”

His mother, Odessa Swarts, added “Proud moments”, while World Athletics tweeted “He’s back”.

The two-time 400m world champion said on Saturday that he has yet to decide if he will take part in the upcoming ASA Grand Prix events on April 12 (Tuks Stadium, Pretoria), 19 (Germiston Stadium, Johannesburg) and 26 (NWU McArthur Stadium, Potchefstroom) before he heads back to his US training base in Florida ahead of the international season.


IOL Sport