Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk coasted to a pedestrian time in his opening 400m race of the season, after apparently having words with officials in Bloemfontein on Saturday, though he delivered solid performances in the 100m and 200m events during a busy day of competition at the Free State Athletics Championships.
Van Niekerk got the day off to a good start, clocking 20.45 seconds in the 200m dash.
According to his agent Peet van Zyl, however, the speedster had asked local officials to combine some of the 400m heats to ensure the lanes were full in his race, but they refused the request.
Running in a depleted field in his heat, he jogged around the track to cross the line in 48.47, more than five seconds outside his world best of 43.03 and well off the pace of Kovsies teammate Hendrik Maartens who won the fastest heat in 47.18.
“There was supposed to be a straight final, but then the athletes were told there would be heats, and when they did the lane draws there were two or three guys in some races,” Van Zyl said.
“Wayde tried to get them to reconsider, but they would not, so he just jogged his heat.”
Van Niekerk went on to secure victory in the men’s 100m contest, setting a season’s best of 10.12 and showing the first real signs that he was regaining his best form in the early stages of the 2017 campaign.