CAPE TOWN – An emotional Wayde van Niekerk says he didn’t get the respect he “deserved” after winning the 400m gold medal, and that he gave it his all in clinching a silver in the 200m at the IAAF World Championships on Thursday night.
Van Niekerk let it all out after crowning arguably the greatest week of his career with a silver medal in the 200m in 20.11 seconds as he was pipped to the line by unheralded Turkish athlete Ramil Guliyev, who claimed gold in 20.09.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards took bronze in the same time as Van Niekerk’s.
But the South African was seen shedding tears in a video interview with the BBC afterwards, and was later quoted by AFP as saying that it had been a “tough week”.
He may have been referring to some of the controversy surrounding former sprinting great Michael Johnson’s comments during a panel discussion on the BBC earlier this week, where he said that there was a possible conspiracy theory that the IAAF wanted to guarantee that a superstar like Van Niekerk won the 400m gold medal.
It stemmed from the controversial decision by the governing body to withdraw Botswana star Isaac Makwala from the one-lap event due to illness.
Makwala was diagnosed with norovirus (or gastroenteritis) – which has affected a number of other teams at the event – and had been told to remain in quarantine at his hotel.
But the Botswana camp felt that there wasn’t proper communication throughout the saga from the IAAF, with their star athlete even arriving at London Stadium to run in the 400m final.
He was turned away by security officials at the gate, and then aired his grievances on British TV.
While Makwala may have been unfairly treated, as he appeared to be fit enough to take part in the 400m final, that had nothing to do with Van Niekerk.
Johnson, though, weighed in on the matter. “This is going to be one of those situations where the IAAF are going to realise at some point they have got it horribly wrong,” the American was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying on the BBC programme, “either by disqualifying the athlete unnecessarily or by not communicating to him or the Botswana team why they have disqualified him.
“Does this apply to all athletes? What is the criteria? If you collapse, you are okay, but if you vomit, you are not? It doesn’t appear any guidelines were issued to him about coming into contact with other competitors.”
Johnson then brought Van Niekerk – who had broken Johnson’s 400m world record at last year’s Rio Olympics – into the mix. “The elephant in the room is that Wayde van Niekerk is an IAAF favourite, a fan favourite, he’s a favourite of everyone.
“He’s the world record-holder, the Olympic champion.
“And now the only person that was his challenger, Isaac Makwala, who was going to double as well, who has the fastest time in the world this year, 19.74 for 200m, and the second-fastest time in the world this year for 400m…
“And now he has been pulled out of both these races. Conspiracy theories are going round. Who is behind this?”
So, despite missing out on a golden double, Van Niekerk can be delighted with his silver medal in the 200m on Thursday night.
And it was no wonder that he let things off his chest afterwards.
“It’s been a tough week,” Van Niekerk was quoted as saying by AFP. “I really feel I worked hard for tonight and I gave it my all. I have proven over and over I deserve what I have achieved.
“There are many people who don’t think I deserve this.
“I work just as hard as every other competitor. I don’t think I got the respect I deserved after the 400 metres, but it’s only the beginning, and I will show my dominance.”
Having had to run on six consecutive nights in attempting the sprint double that only Johnson had previously achieved – in 1995 in Gothenburg – Van Niekerk had little left in the tank on Thursday night.
But he nearly got the gold, leading for most of the last 80 metres before Guliyev dipped ahead of him on the line.
“It was really a massive roller-coaster for me, this competition. I didn’t just celebrate the medal I got tonight, it was more a celebration of the competition overall. Coming away with two medals – both a good colour, gold and silver. I think it’s great for my career and another moment to be grateful for,” Van Niekerk said.
“It’s such a massive relief, this competition has been crazy, with highs and lows. The previous two days have been difficult, with the weather being so cold too.”
* Additional reporting by Ockert de Villiers in London