LONDON – In a cathartic moment Wayde van Niekerk’s emotions revealed the pressures and enormity of his feat of racing and winning double medals at the world championships.
Shortly after he crossed the line in second place to add the 200m silver to the 400m gold from two days earlier, Van Niekerk battled to hold back the tears in a BBC interview.
He had dared to take on one of the most taxing schedules at the world championships and managed to successfully defend his 400m title, and add the 200m silver.
The South African had completed six days of competitive racing, which included three 200s in as many days and three lactic-acid inducing 400s.
Asked about the reason for the tears, Van Niekerk said he felt disrespected by crowd-favourite Isaac Makwala of Botswana earlier in the week.
Makwala missed out on the 400m after he was placed under 48-hours quarantine following a confirmed outbreak of norovirus among athletes at the championships.
Conspiracy theorists suggested the IAAF’s withdrawal of Makwala from Monday’s 200m heats after he was diagnosed with an infectious disease was part of a dubious scheme to give Van Niekerk easy passage to the podium in both the 200m and 400m.
“It really did upset me a bit, especially the amount of respect I’ve shown each and every competitor I compete against, including Makwela,” Van Niekerk said.
“I’ve shown him massive respect and him to mention my name among something fishy happening in the IAAF favourite, and pointing me out as a favourite I deserve way more respect from my competitors.”
Makwala raced into the hearts and minds of athletics fans when he ran a solo time trial to qualify for the 200m semi-final.
Considered as one of Van Niekerk’s biggest threats, Makwala finished in sixth place in the 200m final, posting a time of 20.44.
To compound Van Niekerk’s double challenge, the British summer dished up two days of cold, wet and miserable weather on the days he raced his 400m final and 200m semi-final.
“The fact was the legs were going whether I was concerned or not, I just tried to continue fighting and making sure I get over the finish line, among the medals.
"I think silver is still a beautiful colour to have,” Van Niekerk said.
“I’ve shown over and over my dominance as an athlete, I’ve worked hard to be where I am today, I’ve worked for what I’ve achieved.”
Van Niekerk came into the championships with the goal of becoming the first man since American icon Michael Johnson at Gothenburg 1995 to win the 200-400m double.
Coming off the bend, Van Niekerk was neck-and-neck with Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who was the only survivor from the 200m finals at the 2015 Championships in Beijing and the Rio Olympics.
Guliyev got his nose in front in a close tussle between the two with the Azerbaijani-born sprinter dipping first at the line in 20.09 seconds
Posting identical times of 20.11, Van Niekerk was awarded the silver on a photo-finish, with Canada's Jereem Richards rounding off the podium in third.
His second medal secured South Africa its best ever medal haul at the championships of two gold, a silver, and two bronze medals, with the possibility of more to come
Long-jump duo Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai opened the account with gold and bronze respectively while Caster Semenya claimed a dramatic third-place in the 1500m.
For now, at least, it seems like Van Niekerk will not attempt another 200-400m double but would instead take a stab at improving on his world record in the one lap sprint.
“If I have to refer to the 400m, I would love to have that as an individual event... go for my world record again,” Van Niekerk said.
“The only double I would consider now is the 100m and 200m. I’d love to do that next year at the Commonwealth Games.”