Wayde van Niekerk prepares for his first international 400m of the year
Wayde van Niekerk would love to take the sprint baton from Usain Bolt‚ but for now he’s happy being the Jamaican’s “hype man”.
Van Niekerk‚ who competes in his first international 400m of the season in Lausanne on Thursday night‚ said he had recently joked with Bolt‚ who retires this year‚ that he was whipping up the crowds at meets before the sprint legend took to the track.
“I was joking with him… I said I’m basically becoming his hype man for his farewell season because it was since Rio [Olympics]‚ before his race I got the crowd hot‚ before Jamaica I went out and got the crowd hot and again in Ostrava I went out there and got the crowd hot.”
Van Niekerk set his 43.03sec world record at the Rio Games shortly before the men’s 100m final‚ and then racing before Bolt in Jamaica and Ostrava last month‚ he ran to his 19.84 200m South African record and 30.81 300m world best.
He said Bolt had inspired many athletes including himself and he deserved to be honoured in his final season. “This year is just to thank him what he’s done for the sport.
“Obviously as the new generation I would love to take the baton and continue doing great things‚ but with that comes a lot of hard work and years.”
Van Niekerk‚ who plans on doing the 200m-400m double at the world championships in London next month‚ insisted he had no time goal for on Thursday‚ adding he wouldn’t be disappointed if he failed to break 44 seconds.
“I’ve never been someone who chases a record‚ the only time was Ostrava.
“Times come when it’s needed … I’m not someone who goes out there chasing times. I go out there chasing consistency and chasing good form.”
Van Niekerk said he was looking forward to seeing where he was in the 400m.
“I feel quite confident on how I’ve been performing this far.
"I definitely know I’m in good shape when it comes to every single distance below 400m except 400m‚” said Van Niekerk‚ who also improved his 100m personal best to 9.94 in the past month.
“I’m looking forward to see what … I might face‚ but obviously you know me by now‚ I’m going to go out there and put my best foot forward and try put a good show out there.”
Among those lining up against Van Niekerk on Thursday is Machel Cedenio of Trinidad and Tobago‚ the only man to have beaten SA’s Olympic champion in an international 400m race in the past two seasons.
He pipped Van Niekerk in the semifinals at the Rio Games last year‚ but ended up fourth in the final‚ nearly a full second behind the winner.
Van Niekerk’s compatriots‚ Sunette Viljoen and Akani Simbine‚ look to have stiffer competition on Thursday.
Olympic silver medallist Viljoen is up against four of the other top six finishers in Rio‚ including champion Sara Kolak of Croatia and Czech Republic’s veteran bronze medallist Barbora Spotakova.
In the 100m Simbine and training partner Henricho Bruintjies face Justin Gatlin‚ who beat them in Hungary on Tuesday night.