Wayde van Niekerk nurses his injured right knee. Photo: Roger Sedres/ImageSA

Silly! That is what everyone and his dog says about Wayde van Niekerk’s unsuccessful foray into celebrity touch rugby.

The sprinting superstar practically gambled with his career when he swapped his spikes for rugby boots.

In hindsight, Van Niekerk would probably agree with the rest of the world that playing touchies wasn’t the smartest move.

But ultimately, Wayde would have to live with his decision to run out onto the lush green grass of Newlands. His friends, family and coach would have advised him against going onto that field.

The world tells us that we have to “live like we were to die tomorrow”.

That is exactly what Van Niekerk did as he lived out what was probably a childhood dream. To run out onto Newlands or any other major soccer or rugby stadium.

Van Niekerk has been exalted as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt’s throne as sprinting king of the world.

The burden of wearing that crown will forever weigh heavily on his head but that is the price of fame and fortune.

It is understandable that a man standing at the pinnacle of his sport has an air of invincibility.

Let’s be fair, Van Niekerk is young and full of life and has been thrust into the limelight and forced to be a role model to many.

The athletics world questioned Van Niekerk’s wisdom including the likes of US legend Michael Johnson.

“Can’t think of a past sprinter with a torn ACL. Plenty of NFL players come back just as strong,” Johnson said on social media.

There was some good news from Van Niekerk’s world-renowned complex knee specialist doctor Robert LaPrade.

Van Niekerk sustained medial and lateral tears of the meniscus, as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In most sports that is a career-threatening injured, particularly contact codes like rugby.

Going from the straight and flat surface of a mondo or tartan track to an uneven grass field is one part of the risk.

The other part is that a sprinter never has to change direction other than having to motor around the bends.

Everyone from medical ninjas to arm-chair experts have shared their prognosis of Van Niekerk’s recovery.

From the initial six months, a year, to his career as a whole tanking completely.

Many of the sages would have us think that the 400m world champion’s career is tinkering on the precipice.

Damaging an ACL in rugby could be career threatening but for an athlete running straight lines there is hope.

Considering the medical minds looking after Van Niekerk, there is more hope and South Africans can dare to dream he will come back faster and stronger.

There is no guarantee Van Niekerk will be at his best, or he would be able to continue his pursuit of chasing a sub-43 half-lap sprint.

One thing is certain though, our man Van Niekerk has demonstrated the ability to to defy the odds.

South Africa’s best athlete of all time deserves the country’s respect and patience.

Let’s hope he recovers fully and continue on his journey to greatness.


Saturday Star

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