LONDON – Wayde van Niekerk is willing to fight for the right to be named as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt’s throne as the IAAF World Championships starting in London on Friday represents the changing of the guard.
The build-up to the global showpiece has seen two of its two biggest drawcards exchange compliments as the one paid homage to the retiring hero and the other admired the rise of a star.
Speaking at an adidas sponsorships event on Wednesday, Van Niekerk told a throng of journalists of his appreciation for what Bolt has done for the sport, but also of his desire to become the king.
“It’s one thing someone saying he can be the next great thing, but it’s another thing working for that greatness,” Van Niekerk said, with a backdrop of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
“This is a dream that I need to fight for, and I need to fight for it as hard as I can.”
Van Niekerk and Bolt has been involved in an athletic pas de deux (duet) since the Rio Olympic Games where they have complimented each other not only on the track with their performances, but also in their praise of each other.
On Tuesday evening, Bolt once again singled out Van Niekerk as one of the athletes to become the new poster child of the sport.
“He told me he’ll send my invoice because he’s been putting me out there quite a lot,” Van Niekerk said about their relationship in recent times.
“It’s an honour to be able to learn and rub shoulders with a great like Usain.”
The South African world record-holder was on the cusp of reaching his own level of greatness, targeting a rare 200m-400m double gold at the championships.
Asked whether he had spoken to Bolt about the pressure of being the face of the sport, Van Niekerk said he had an acute awareness of the task ahead.
“His impact on the sport has been massive, and now I’m having the opportunity to build a small relationship with him, and I continue my journey,” Van Niekerk said.
“It gives me a lot of excitement to see what lies in store for me, but at the same time, I know there’s a lot of responsibility for me to go out there and work for where I want to be.”
The defending 400m world champion said while he had no immediate plans to remove the one-lap sprint from his repertoire, the shorter distances would receive more attention in future.
“The 400m is a very difficult topic for me. It brought me to where I am today, so I will be stupid to let it go and let it slip,” Van Niekerk said.
“But at the same time, I wish I could have left it and focused on the 100m and the 200m, but I didn’t think I would, just because of the fact that I am doing so great in the event.
“If I mention growth, I want to compete against number one and two in the world, and that is throughout all the distances I do.”