Wayde van Niekerk celebrates after winning gold in the 400m. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley

JOHANNESBURG - Wayde van Niekerk’s first love may be the shorter sprints but he will have to put it on the back-burner once he is back to full fitness.

The 400m world record holder has started rehabilitation after an operation to his right knee.

Van Niekerk’s coach “Tannie” Ans Botha said they were effectively back to when she first started working with the star athlete.

He started out as a promising 200m athlete and was fourth on his international debut at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Canada.

But due to persistent hamstring injuries, Botha decided to move her charge to the one-lap sprint.

As much as Van Niekerk dislikes the 400m, it has earned him global fame and admiration.

“We have to wait and see after he returns from Qatar after he has competed his rehab,” Botha said.

“We have to work day by day and listen carefully to his body, adjust and work like we have the past five years.”

Botha has been extremely protective of her protégé keeping his ambitions of racing the 100 and 200m in check. It was only this year that she gave him some slack to race the 100 and 200.

“In the past five years we went through a lot; some days we could train and sometimes you have listen to the body and rest completely for that day," she added.

“This year Wayde ran his best times in the 100, he ran an SA 200m record, broke the 300m world best, and was able to defend his 400m world title as well as bringing home the 200m silver medal.”

Before sustaining medial and lateral tears of the meniscus, as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a touch rugby match in October, Van Niekerk had his sights set on a 100/200m double at the Commonwealth Games.

He is expected to be out for at least six months and is likely to only race again next August.

“Because the Commonwealth Games is so early in the year, Wayde and I planned to handle the Games as if it is our national championships,” Botha said. "But that is now on ice."

The Star

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