Wayde van Niekerk excited to face ‘uncomfortable situations’ in US after easy 200m semi-final
CAPE TOWN – Wayde van Niekerk says his imminent move to the United States is about being “associated with champions” as he chases a new 400m world record in defence of his Olympic title.
The 28-year-old had an easy time of it on the second day of the South African athletics championships at the Tuks Stadium in Pretoria on Friday, where he was able to cruise from his heat into the semi-final, where it was another relaxed run to reach Saturday’s final.
Van Niekerk opened up with a time of 20.60 seconds in the morning, and upped the ante slightly on a warm afternoon to win his semi-final in 20.38 – the quickest of all the final qualifiers – as he ran a strong bend and maintained his pace in the home straight to beat former world championship bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana into second place (20.89).
Talking about qualifying, SA 200m record-holder Clarence Munyai almost didn’t make it to the Saturday evening decider (6.35pm) after slowing down considerably close to the finish line in his semi-final.
The 23-year-old Gauteng North athlete, whose national mark stands at an incredible 19.69, ended in third with 21.03, with only the top two finishers gaining automatic qualification.
He would’ve had an anxious few minutes as he waited for the third semi-final to be run, and after officials checked all three races, Munyai scraped through to the final as one of the ‘fastest losers’ by just 0.01 seconds, with the next best being Vuyo Moss in 21.04.
For Van Niekerk, though, it was another important outing as he plots the path to breaking his 400m world record of 43.03 seconds and gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I am happy with how the year has been thus far. It has definitely been a positive direction, and I can just use this as a confidence boost to take with me for this season. My goal is towards the European season, and making sure I do well at the Olympic Games. This is an amazing opportunity as a stepping stone to get myself back on to the track, to get to where I should be,” the Free State athlete told BackTrack Sports after the race.
“(Handling pressure) It is definitely a reality in my life right now – I can’t try and avoid it. But if you look at my performances right now… that is why I am exposing myself right now to such quality fields.
“Just using that to improve myself and by the time I get to the European stages, I will start challenging myself against those guys.”
Van Niekerk is awaiting his passport and visa from US authorities, where he will be based in Florida as part of the training group of 200m world champion Noah Lyles, and new coach Lance Brauman.
With the first Diamond League meeting scheduled for May 23 in Gateshead, England – the next six weeks should give Van Niekerk enough time to sharpen his approach.
“The move that I am making to the US is one way I can now put myself and my body mentally and physically into a space where I am associated with champions – guys that are fighting for gold medals. That’s where my focus is right now: to make sure I get back to winning gold,” he said.
“I will be training with guys who are out there to break records, to win gold medals, and it’s a place that I want to be associated with. I want to challenge myself, and be put in uncomfortable situations where I can push my body and my mind to where I haven’t been before. This is the perfect time to make sure a move.”