‘Welcome, partner’: Wayde van Niekerk finally makes it to the United States
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CAPE TOWN – At long last – Wayde van Niekerk has arrived in the United States to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
But when the 400m world record-holder will be back in action is still up in the air at the moment.
Van Niekerk has waited for a number of weeks to receive clearance from the US government to travel to Florida, where he has linked up with new coach Lance Brauman – with 200m world champion Noah Lyles and 400m women’s Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo also part of the group.
The delay allowed the 28-year-old to compete in the South African championships in Pretoria last month, where he clinched the 200m title in 20.38 seconds, but Van Niekerk withdrew from the SA World Relays team that travelled to Poland last week for the same reason.
And it was a good decision, as the 400m Olympic champion was eventually given the go-ahead to fly to America.
Miller-Uibo posted a photo on Instagram on Monday with Van Niekerk to welcome the South African star. “When you get blessed with a world record holder as a training partner! Class is in session, lol! Welcome to the group Wayde,” said the Bahamas athlete, to which he replied: “Exciting times.”
Van Niekerk posted his own photo on Tuesday, with the caption: “Been an amazing first day in the US meeting my new team. Gradually building!!!”
Van Niekerk’s manager, Peet van Zyl, told Independent Media on Tuesday that the Covid-19 restrictions were making it difficult to draw up a race schedule for the international season ahead of the Olympics.
Akani Simbine, who guided Team SA to gold in the 4x100m relay in Poland on Sunday night, is also part of Van Zyl’s In-Site Athlete Management stable.
For now, Van Niekerk will “train and train. I will catch up with him and coach Lance next week to discuss race schedules”, said Van Zyl, who added that the Boston Games event scheduled for May 22 has a big question mark around it for Van Niekerk and Simbine due to travel restrictions for SA passport holders.
The latter is set to travel to Italy to train at his usual Gemona base, and was hoping to race in Boston or the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava on May 18, but Van Zyl said that seems unlikely due to a 14-day quarantine period required for South Africans either in the Czech Republic or another low-risk country.
While the Diamond League opener is in Gateshead, England on May 23, South Africans are not allowed into the UK due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The next two Diamond League events take place in Doha on May 28 and Rome on June 10. Van Niekerk will be eager to run in the 400m again after being advised by Brauman to avoid the distance so far this year.
“Wayde will race in the US in the next month. I will discuss with Lance at the end of the week, once he has had a solid week of training with Wayde, and then we will make a call as to where Wayde will race in the US before heading over to Europe,” Van Zyl said.
It is understood that a lack of a detailed Covid-19 vaccination plan in South Africa is also a stumbling block for local athletes to travel overseas.
Sascoc said recently that they are in discussions with government to see if there is a possibility of having the Olympic squad vaccinated before going to Tokyo.