Winning medals is great, but better if they’re gold or silver

14 August 2017 - 08:36
By Prof Ross Tucker
Wayde van Niekerk.
Image: Getty Images Wayde van Niekerk.

As the curtain falls on the 2017 World Athletics Championships it’s worth reflecting on South Africa’s record haul of medals, which could well have been even better.

Wayde van Niekerk left London as one of only six multiple individual medal winners atthe championships. He has, however, appeared burdened in London, perhaps by the programme he took on with the 400m-200m double (it meant six consecutive days of racing), or by the weight of expectation placed on him by the IAAF.

One article described Van Niekerk’s interviews and press conferences as those of a“hostage ”, and so winning silver in the 200m, rather than a double gold, is possibly the best thing that could have happened. It means Van Niekerk can try to improve his performances with a little less hype and desperate hope that he be the “next Usain Bolt”.

Bolt was not Bolt because he broke world records and ran fast. It was the dancing withmascots and teammates, posing with his “lightning Bolt” after winning, DJ-ing, fast cars,and clowning around with officials. He was entertainment, then speed.

Van Niekerk is humility, then speed. Quieter, though not lacking in confidence, he go esstraight to his family and support team after he wins, then lies down for a few minutes. He celebrated his 200m silver medal more joyously than his 400m gold.

Changing that, and forcing Bolt-like extroversion on him, probably suffocates his running ability.

Perhaps there’s a happy medium between the extremes and he’ll find it.I think he’ll also find 200m gold. A man who can run sub-10sec for 100m and 43.03 fo r400m is capable of 19.5 over 200m. That he ran 20.12 to win silver says a lot about whatthe week took from his legs.

What of the performances of the other South African athletes in London?We have, as expected, won six medals. I thought four would be gold, but Van Niekerk’ssilver means it is three.

Caster Semenya delivered a gold medal last night by winning her 21st consecutive 800mrace in a time of 1:55.16, adding to her 1 500m bronze in London.

That race was tactically one of the worst performances I have seen. At every key momentin that 1 500m final, Semenya was tactically absent. She allowed the first surge by Hassan to relegate her to 12th place, then she failed to respond to the second surge at the bell and then drifted too far back with 300m to go, leaving her almost 2sec behind with 200m to go.