Olympic countdown: Wayde van Niekerk out to conquer again (Profile)
New Delhi : In Rio Olympics 2016, Wayde van Niekerk hit three targets with one run. In the final of the men’s 400m, van Niekerk beat defending champion Kirani James of Grenada and LaShawn Merritt to get the gold medal with a blistering 43.03s.Through his incredible run, van Niekerk broke the world record set by Michael Johnson of USA in 1999, Olympics record again set by Johnson in 1996 and Africa record set by Yousef Ahmed Masrahi of Saudi Arabia in 2015.Post Rio, van Niekerk successfully defended his World Championship title in 2017 with a timing of 43.98s. He also grabbed silver in 200m with a timing of 20.11s. He was expected to soar high but ran into an injury which nearly jeopardized his career.In October 2017, van Niekerk participated in a celebrity rugby match which left him with medial and lateral tears in his meniscus and a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of his left knee. The recovery kept him out of the track for nearly two years. When he was all set to make a comeback, a bone bruise popped up, forcing him out of the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
Before the pandemic forced the world into a lockdown, van Niekerk made his first steps towards a comeback. At an unofficial race in Bloemfontein, he raced in 100m with 10.10s and 200m with 20.31s. Seven days later, he ran in the 400m with a timing of 47.42s.The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics by a year gave van Niekerk a chance to make the cut for the 400m. In September 2020, he ran 45.48s for a top spot in Bellinzona, Switzerland. Two months later, he clocked 45.89 at an open meet in Potchefstroom.In June 2021, van Niekerk was finally able to qualify for the 400m at the Tokyo Olympics. With his best time of 44.56s (tenth best overall) at a World Athletics Continental Tour event in Madrid, he confirmed his ticket for defending his title.When van Niekerk steps on the track at Tokyo, he will be facing stiff competition from younger and faster competitors Steven Gardiner, Michael Norman and Anthony Zambrano.But just what he did in Rio, Van Niekerk will have his eyes only on his lane at Tokyo. “I need to focus on me and where I want to be as an athlete and what I want to achieve: that’s to continue to be number one and improve myself, strengthen myself,” van Niekerk had said to World Athletics.
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