Wayde van Niekerk: I had to humble myself

05 March 2020 - 15:40 By David Isaacson
Wayde van Niekerk during the 2020 Free State Track and Field Championships.
Wayde van Niekerk during the 2020 Free State Track and Field Championships.
Image: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk says he had to humble himself and learn patience to get over the injury to his right knee that kept him out the sport for two seasons.

His toughest moment came when he had to abort his comeback last year‚ but now he says he’s back and is aiming to lower his 43.03sec 400m world record.

Talking at the launch of Discovery’s Vitality Running World Cup at the Discovery headquarters in Johannesburg on Thursday‚ Van Niekerk spoke candidly about the disappointment of 2019 when he was forced to skip the international season‚ including the world championships.

“A lot of times they say within a year you’ll start feeling good and me being so competitive I’m always trying to find the gain‚ the gain‚ the gain‚ but with an injury like this you can’t always get the gain when you want it‚” said Van Niekerk‚ who underwent surgery in late 2017 after hurting his knee while playing touch rugby.

“I had to humble myself a lot and I had to build up a lot of patience in terms of allowing my body to heal the way it wants to.

“It’s the second year now and now I’m starting to feel the way I would [have loved to have felt] last year.

"I’m starting to feel way more confident in my body and I’m starting to feel as if I can now race against the best in the world again.

“It’s a good feeling.”

But Van Niekerk warned he still had to be careful.

“There’s a lot of responsibility with this now‚ you don’t want to be too eager and hurt yourself again and then it’s the entire year out again.”

Van Niekerk has already competed a few times this year‚ racing over distances from 100m to 800m.

“This year things are starting to [come together] quite well‚” he told journalists at an impromptu press conference.

“I’m feeling positive‚ I’m feeling excited for the year. I’m speaking as if we’re going on as a normal season.

“I don’t see myself as injured anymore‚ I don’t see myself having a disadvantage anymore. I’m back to normal again.”

His two standout performances so far this season were a 10.1sec 100m and a 20.31sec 200m.

“The speed part is definitely there‚ I still need to work a bit on the endurance‚ but I believe it’s more mental than physical‚ just getting my body to test those limits again.

“I’m no stranger to it. I just need to expose my body to those stresses again.”

Van Niekerk said his coach‚ Tannie Ans Botha‚ had initially been reluctant to let him race over 100m so early.

“I kind of begged her to allow me to take baby steps‚ but when she said yes then I didn’t think baby steps anymore. I said ‘I want to execute’.

“I’m glad we had that courage to put that fear aside and the doubts aside a bit and just push the body because a 10.1 and 20.3 at this time of the year is not too bad and it actually sparked that competitiveness in me.

“I’m far from satisfied with that because I’ve seen what I can do.”

But his main focus for 2020 is the 400m and the world record.

“I think the main focus is to get back to that 42 [sub-43 seconds]. I’m so close so I need to invest everything in trying to get it back.

“The 100 and 200 plays a massive role in trying to get my speed back‚ but the main focus is the 400m this year...

“I’m very hungry though and I really want to get back on the track and shift my weight again.”