It was naturally very disappointing to see Wayde van Niekerk run out of steam in the men’s 400m final of the World Athletics Championships on Thursday, as the world record holder was left frustrated after he had shown signs that he was back to his best form.
Like his semi-final, Van Niekerk faded in the last 100m as his push for a medal never materialised. Instead, he finished last in a time of 45.11 seconds as he was unable to add to his two world championship crowns.
“Very frustrating and disappointed. But obviously I have to take full responsibility. I’m the one that lined up and put the effort in,” Van Niekerk said after his race.
“[It was] Off-par from what I can do. Also comparing it to the medalists, it's not a good performance at all.”
It was particularly disappointing for Van Niekerk, who was back to his best this season since he sustained a serious knee injury in 2017, which has derailed his career of the world record holder. This season Van Niekerk has seen his world ranking rise back to number one, but he was unable to replicate that form in the world championships.
Instead, his season’s best of 44.08 which he ran just last month in Poland seemed like a distant memory. The winning time of 44.22 run by Jamaica’s Antonio Watson was therefore a mark Van Niekerk certainly could have matched or bettered.
In the 400m heats at the World Championships he ran 44.57, 44.65 in the semis and then produced his worst time of the week in the final.
Van Niekerk simply wasn’t able to produce when it mattered.
"I ran terrible. The run was well off. I'm a 44 (second) athlete from this season. I was wrong. I did not get my race right. I’m still processing everything, but not happy. But it's what just happened, so I obviously need to process that and see what's next,"
“Looking at the form I was in I believed I could do better. I’m not happy, but it’s my reality.”
Whether the issue for Van Niekerk is mental or physical is up for debate, and will be something he needs to figure out before the Paris Olympics next year.
The 2016 Olympic champion and world record holder Van Niekerk will be 32 when the event starts, and realistically it will be his last chance at reclaiming some of his former glory. It may end in ecstasy or more disappointment, but for now one thing is clear, Van Niekerk needs a break.
“I’m going to take a few days to switch off now. Mentally it’s been a journey. It’s still something I’m trying to understand. This mental thing is something new to me.”