Wayde van Niekerk slows down in home straight, misses out on 400m final
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CAPE TOWN - Wayde van Niekerk’s Olympic dream is over after he failed to qualify for the 400m final on Monday.
The defending champion and world record-holder said after his heat on Sunday that he felt “positive” and his body was “feeling good”, following a number of injury niggles over the last 12 months, after recovering from his long-term knee injury.
Having run 45.25 seconds in his heat, Van Niekerk was drawn in lane eight in a top-class field in his semi-final, which included Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, American Michael Norman and Botswana star Isaac Makwala.
Only the top two out of the three semi-finals qualify automatically for the final, followed by the two ‘fastest losers’ from the rest of the field.
After 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada posted a terrific time of 43.88 seconds in the first semi-final, he dragged the rest of the field to quick times, with the top five all under 45 seconds.
That meant Van Niekerk either had to finish in the top two in his race, or end third in a time of 44.92 or faster to make the final.
The 29-year-old South African went out fast – reminiscent of his approach to the Rio 2016 final from the same lane eight – and was actually in the lead over the opening 250 metres.
But once he got to the final bend, Van Niekerk grimaced and suddenly slowed down dramatically, and that saw Gardiner, Norman and Makwala pass him on his inside.
Van Niekerk managed to get to the finish line, but ended fifth in a time of 45.14 seconds, which placed him 12th overall.
The rain started falling soon after that at the Olympic Stadium, resembling the tears flowing from South African fans on social media after Van Niekerk’s performance.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 400m hurdles semi-finals, South Africa’s Wenda Nel faced tough conditions as the rain came pelting down towards the end of the evening session in her race.
She was also up against 21-year-old world record-holder, Sydney McLaughlin of the United States, as well as Ukraine’s Anna Ryzhykova.
Nel stayed patient and was in touch with the leaders over the first 200m, but then McLaughlin charged forward from the rest of the field to win in 53.03 seconds.
The 33-year-old Nel had to be satisfied with seventh place in 56.35, which matched her performance from the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she also reached the semi-finals.
400m final qualifiers
Kirani James (Grenada) 43.88
Anthony Zambrano (Colombia) 43.93
Steven Gardiner (Bahamas) 44.14
Michael Cherry (USA) 44.44
Michael Norman (USA) 44.52
Isaac Makwala (Botswana) 44.59
Liemarvin Bonevacia (Netherlands) 44.62
Christopher Taylor (Jamaica) 44.92
First 400m semi-final
1 Kirani James (Grenada) 43.88
2 Anthony Zambrano (Colombia) 43.93
3 Liemarvin Bonevacia (Netherlands) 44.62
4 Deon Lendore (Trinidad and Tobago) 44.93
5 Davide Re (Italy) 44.94
6 Ricky Petrucciani (Switzerland) 45.26
7 Luka Janezic (Slovenia) 45.36
8 Jonathan Sacoor (Belgium) 45.88
Second 400m semi-final
1 Michael Cherry (USA) 44.44
2 Christopher Taylor (Jamaica) 44.92
3 Steven Solomon (Australia) 45.15
4 Mazen Al Yassin (Saudi Arabia) 45.37
5 Leungo Scotch (Botswana) 45.56
6 Machel Cedenio (Trinidad and Tobago) 45.86
7 Alonzo Russell (Barbados) 46.04
Third 400m semi-final
1 Steven Gardiner (Bahamas) 44.14
2 Michael Norman (USA) 44.52
3 Isaac Makwala (Botswana) 44.59
4 Demish Gay (Jamaica) 45.09
5 Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) 45.14
6 Jochem Dobber (Netherlands) 45.48
7 Dwight St. Hillaire (Trinidad and Tobago) 45.58
8 Jonathan Jones (Barbados)