Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
25 Jul 2022
8:03 am

OPINION: A fresh start as Van Niekerk emerges from comeback trail

Wesley Botton

Van Niekerk will line up the favourites for a medal at the Commonwealth Games.

Wayde van Niekerk finished fifth at the World Athletics Championships, delivering his best result at a major international championship since 2017. Picture: Getty Images

It might seem overly enthusiastic, considering his magnificent career, but Wayde van Niekerk had good reason to celebrate his fifth-place finish at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene at the weekend.

Van Niekerk’s time in the 400m final (44.97 seconds) was nearly two seconds outside the world record (43.03) he set to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The two-time world champion also fell well short in an attempt to reclaim his global title.

He was nonetheless delighted with his result.

“From continuous injuries… to being the fifth fastest man over the 400m in the world and the fastest man in Africa. I feel more motivated and focused to get more than just a podium,” Van Niekerk said on twitter.

Considering the long road he has travelled, overcoming multiple injuries, the 30-year-old sprinter did well just to reach the final.

He had become such a dark horse he was very nearly written off, but Van Niekerk showed a glimpse of his best in Eugene.

And it wasn’t his performance in the final which turned heads. It was his first-round heat.

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Watching him coast around the track, making one of the toughest disciplines in athletics look easy, is something we have missed.

He has proved he is far from spent, and with a bit more strength and stamina, Van Niekerk is going to be dangerous against any field.

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It might be a bit much to expect gold from him just yet, particularly with such a quick turnaround, but his performances over three rounds at the World Championships suggest he will be among the favourites for a medal at the Commonwealth Games starting in Birmingham next week.

He will have to find another gear if he wants to beat the likes of in-form Kirani James of Grenada, but it will be great to see Van Niekerk on the podium again. It’s been too long.