Aiming for a historic 200m/400m double at the IAAF World Championships in London, Wayde van Niekerk achieved the first of his two goals by retaining the global crown over the longer distance on Tuesday night.
Gearing up for the 200m semifinals on Wednesday evening, he sat down with media for a quick chat before taking the next step.
Also read: Van Niekerk defends world 400m title
Here’s what he had to say.
On his tactics in the 400m final, which he won in 43.98 seconds:
Background – With his strongest rival, Isaac Makwala of Botswana, forced to withdraw, he was able to take his foot off the pedal down the home straight in the 400m and conserve energy ahead of the 200m semifinals.
I just couldn’t catch my stride, and over the last few metres I looked up at the screen and noticed how far ahead I was. Immediately I thought of my health, and realising I still have two more rounds (in the 200m), I thought if the time isn’t going to come there’s no use for me to push all the way to my limit.
On Makwala’s absence from the 400m final:
Background – In superb shape in the build-up, Makwala was expected to be Van Niekerk’s strongest challenger in both events, but he withdrew from the 200m heats after picking up a virus and, according to the IAAF, UK health regulations required he be quarantined for 48 hours. He left his room to attempt competing but was denied entry to the stadium.
It was definitely a heart-breaking moment. It’s two competitors this year, actually, both Kirani James (of Grenada) and Isaac Makwala who had to withdraw due to illnesses. I really wish them both a speedy recovery. I saw Isaac just before the 200m heats, and the only thing I could think of was wrapping my arms around him and telling him he should get well soon.
On how confident he is of winning the 200m title:
Background – If Van Niekerk wins the double, he will become only the second man to achieve the feat after American great Michael Johnson who secured both titles in Gothenburg in 1995.
It’s easier said than done. This is a competition and anything is possible. We’ve seen through almost every event, this competition is very unpredictable, but I know I’ve got the ability. My body still feels very good. The recovery process (after the 400m final) was a bit difficult and it took me a while to recover, which is very important because I have to go from endurance straight to speed.
On how it feels for his coach Anna ‘Ans’ Botha to receive her own 400m medal:
Background – For the first time in the history of the World Championships, coaches are receiving medals along with athletes. Botha has been credited with Van Niekerk’s remarkably consistent, analytical approach which has carried him to two world titles, an Olympic crown and a world record in the last three seasons.
She’s a massive inspiration to each and every one of us at the age of 75. Being able to reach these great heights with her athletes, she had to wait such a long time to be able to achieve three golds in three years as a coach, and in the third year she gets to take one home as well and brag with it to her family and friends.