Van Niekerk into 400m semi-finals and focuses on positives

Johannesburg – The entire part of running in the heats is to progress to the next round while conserving energy and that’s exactly what Wayde van Niekerk did on Sunday at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, reports

The South African lit up the Rio 2016 Games when he lowered the men’s 400m world record to 43.03 seconds in winning the gold medal, but injuries and the Covid-19 lockdown has stalled his process.

Now, he has a chance to show the world why he was being called Usain Bolt’s successor as the king of the track once the great Jamaican retired in 2017.

Van Niekerk finished third in his 400m heat at the Tokyo Stadium on Sunday in 45.25 seconds to progress to the semi-finals of the event and keep his dreams alive of retaining his Olympic crown.

The news however wasn’t as positive for his two countrymen, Zakithi Nene and Thapelo Phora, both of whom were eliminated in the first round. They both finished fifth in their respective heats, in 45.74 and 45.83 seconds, respectively, and that wasn’t quick enough to see them make the last 16.

For Van Niekerk however, he has a chance to go deeper into the competition. The American Michael Cherry set the fastest time of qualifying, 44.82, with only five athletes dipping under 45 seconds.

Two of them were in Van Niekerk’s heat – Colombia’s Anthony Zambrano (44.87) and Australia’s Steven Solomon (44.94), the latter being a personal best. Van Niekerk’s PB, we must be reminded, is that 43.03.

Afterwards, the Olympic champion was just happy that he’s through to the semi-finals. “There were quite a bit of nerves that I had to shake out. I had a good 200 and then shut down a bit too soon,” he said.

“But the more I do this the more I’ll start getting more control, I’m in the semis and now I must make sure I make up for the lost time. I feel comfortable, I feel good.”

On the race itself, Van Niekerk said, “I thought the Botswana boy (Leungo Scotch) would keep his pace up and I’d run off of him. But the two boys inside of that were picking up. I expected to catch Scotch, but to my surprise the Australian (Solomon) came through in lane four. But, the top three in the heats go through and that to me was the most important aspect.

“It’s been a been a tough few years for the entire world. My own country is going through so much right now … there’s so much stress, disappointments, pain. I’m trying to be a shining light, fighting through my own setbacks and injuries and being a positive for my country.”


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