While Wayde van Niekerk attempted to divert attention towards fellow sprint ace Usain Bolt, the Jamaican legend offered equal praise to the rising South African star ahead of the Diamond League meeting in Monaco on Friday night.
“This is purely a year of honouring Usain Bolt for what he has done for track and field, and sport in general,” Van Niekerk, who is tipped to break his own 400m world record, said on Thursday.
A day earlier, however, Bolt had suggested that Van Niekerk was one of the athletes to watch ahead of the Jamaican powerhouse’s planned retirement at the end of the season.
Though some had claimed Bolt was avoiding Van Niekerk at next month’s IAAF World Championships, opting to focus on the 100m sprint while Van Niekerk was set to chase a 200m/400m double, he insisted he was not afraid of losing.
“I never back down from a challenge,” said Bolt, who was set to line up against South African record holder Akani Simbine in the short dash in Monaco.
“I think one of the most disappointing things in my career is that he (Van Niekerk) came along at this late stage and I didn’t get to compete against him because I think he’s one of the best, hands down, right now.
“He’s really confident and he really works hard, and I’ve seen him because he has come to Jamaica to train.
“I’m never afraid. I live for competition but it’s too late now at the end of my career and we’ll never know what could have happened.”
Van Niekerk, who had displayed spectacular recent form, and Simbine, who was aiming to gain a confidence booster over Bolt ahead of the World Championships, were expected to form part of a five-member SA contingent at the 11th of 14 legs in the Diamond League series.
Caster Semenya was due to turn out as the favourite in the women’s 800m race, Wenda Nel was in the entry lists for the women’s 400m hurdles contest, and Dominique Scott-Efurd was in the field for the women’s 3 000m battle.