WATCH: Wayde van Niekerk wins in comeback, Akani Simbine also victorious
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CAPE TOWN - He was made to work hard for it, but in the end, Wayde van Niekerk made a victorious comeback to the track in Switzerland on Tuesday night.
The Olympic champion lined up in lane four at the Gala dei Castelli in Bellinzona, donned in pink shoes, blue top and black shorts.
It was the 28-year-old’s first event since Covid-19 stopped all athletics activities, with Van Niekerk’s return delayed by a positive coronavirus that appeared to be a ‘false positive’, as he tested negative before and afterwards.
But it meant that he was in isolation at his training base in Gemona, Italy for 25 days before he was cleared to train outdoors again by Italian authorities.
And the lack of competitive action was evident over the first 200m on Tuesday night, as Van Niekerk was slow out of the blocks in mild, clear conditions.
He took his time to build up his speed, and was actually outside the top four positions heading into the final straight.
But the 400m world record-holder found another gear over the closing 50 metres, and took the honours in 45.58 – a season’s best, although well short of his world mark of 43.03 – with Dutch athlete Jochem Dobber second in 45.78 and Karol Zalewski of Poland third in 46.03.
While the time wasn’t particularly quick by world standards, the race was a breakthrough for Van Niekerk to start his preparations for the big prize – next year’s Tokyo Olympics. He will now return to South Africa to plan the next phase of his programme heading into the local summer.
Well done Wayde van Niekerk @WaydeDreamer! Solid return to the track in Bellinzona, Switzerland this evening with victory in the 400m in 45.58 @IOLsport @SwissAthletics #WaydevanNiekerk #GalaDeiCastelli #Athletics— Ashfak Mohamed (@ashfakmohamed) September 15, 2020
Meanwhile, sprinter Akani Simbine extended his winning streak to three in Europe with another victory in the 100m in Bellinzona.
After a lengthy wait in the blocks, Simbine eventually got going, but had to keep his legs pumping all the way to the line to claim first place in 10.02. He just managed to hold off Italian Filippo Tortu (10.07), who was followed by Sri Lanka’s Yupun Mudiyanselage (10.24).
The other South African on the track, Antonio Alkana, finished third in the 110m hurdles with a season’s best time of 13.40.
In a hard-fought long jump competition, Ruswahl Samaai was forced into second place in the final round of the competition by Finland’s Kristian Pulli, who produced an effort of 8.08m for victory.
Samaai took the lead in the second round with a leap of 8.03m, and followed it up with 8.04m in the third round, which he maintained until the very end, when Pulli triumphed with his last jump of the night.
World champion Tajay Gayle of Jamaica had to settle for third position (7.99m).
Simbine and Alkana will now move on to Rome to take part in the Diamond League event on Thursday.