Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Bigger goals ahead, says Wayde van Niekerk after opener

The champion runner maintained that he would put up a fight in defence of his Olympic 400m title in Tokyo in August.

Though he had to settle for a sluggish time, by his own standards, Wayde van Niekerk remains confident he can regain his best form after stretching his legs in his first race of the year.

Opening his season in challenging conditions, Van Niekerk clocked 20.64 to win the men’s 200m race at the ACNW Open in Potchefstroom on Tuesday night.

Running into a headwind, he coasted down the home straight well clear of the rest of the field, seemingly opting not to change gears in the chase for the line and reserving his best for a better day.

“I really enjoy running in Potch,” Van Niekerk said in a track-side interview after the race, shrugging off the windy conditions.

“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and I’m hoping to go from strength to strength.”

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His result was well outside his 200m personal best of 19.84, as well as the 20.31 season’s best he set last year after returning to the track from a serious knee injury.

While his comeback campaign last year was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, however, Van Niekerk maintained that he would put up a fight in defence of his Olympic 400m title in Tokyo in August.

The versatile speedster announced recently that he would be moving to a new training group in the United States once lockdown restrictions allowed, and in the meantime he was expected to continue using the domestic season to prepare for the upcoming international campaign.

And despite his pedestrian performance this week, which was apparently derailed by the weather, Van Niekerk insisted he was still eager to break his one-lap world record of 43.03 which he set to win gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

“My goal is to improve myself,” he said.

“I’ve got some fast times ahead of me, so I want to make sure I’m ready for that.”

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