CAPE TOWN – If you looked closely at Wayde van Niekerk’s start in the 400m semi-final at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday, you would have notice that he was almost stuck in his blocks.
And the official system proves that his reaction time was 0.381 of a second, way behind the winner of the race, Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, who took just 0.152 of a second to get up and go – that’s more than two-tenths of a second that was lost by the South African star.
So, Van Niekerk was on the back foot from the start, and despite charging into the lead after 200m, he faded in the final 100m to finish fifth in a time of 45.14 seconds – having needed a 44.62 at least to qualify for Thursday’s final as one of the two ‘fastest losers’.
With Gardiner running a quick 44.14 to win the third semi-final, finishing among the top two automatic qualifiers was always going to be tough for Van Niekerk, and that spot was claimed by American Michael Norman in 44.52, with Botswana’s Isaac Makwala also advancing to the final with third place in 44.59.
It was a sad end to the defence of his title, that unforgettable run from lane eight at Rio 2016, where he broke Michael Johnson’s record by producing a remarkable time of 43.03.
The 29-year-old South African was in a positive mood after his heat on Sunday, where he had run 45.25, saying “I feel good”, although he admitted that he had to deal with nerves before the race.
But it just didn’t happen for him on Monday.
“Uhm… obviously very disappointed with the run. Expected way more from myself, but it obviously didn’t work out the way I would like it to work out. But it is what it is, and we move forward,” was all Van Niekerk said, understandably being at a loss for words for his shock elimination from the competition.
But IOL Sport understands that Van Niekerk is now considering getting involved with the SA 4x100m relay team, who lost one of their top figures, Gift Leotlela, to a hamstring injury.
Leotlela clocked 10.03 in his 100m semi-final on Sunday, but pulled up just before the finish line, and confirmed to IOL Sport on Monday that he had suffered a grade two hamstring tear, and would not be able to participate in the relay – which starts with the heats on Thursday.
Akani Simbine will head up the Team SA quest for a medal, along with Thando Dlodlo and Clarence Munyai, who were part of the World Relays triumph in Poland in early May.
Shaun Maswanganyi is another option for coach Paul Gorries to consider, and now Van Niekerk could make a contribution as well.