Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Van Niekerk looks strong enough to challenge for Olympic medal

The 400m world record holder is looking powerful enough to run championship rounds.

We still don’t know if Wayde van Niekerk is going to be challenging for a medal at this year’s Olympic Games, but we do know one thing: He’s looking good.

After recovering from a long-term knee injury, Van Niekerk made a comeback a few years ago but has since struggled to put up a fight at major championships.

The 400m world record holder finished fifth in the one-lap final at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene and settled for seventh place at last year’s global showpiece in Budapest.

Those results raised questions about his potential to regain his best form, and the concern is that he no longer has the strength to hit top gear over three rounds (heats, semifinals and a final).

Fit and strong

On Friday, however, we got the first chance to watch him racing this year (his only previous competition this season was in a 4x400m relay in the US), and he looks as strong and fit as he’s ever been.

That’s not to say he’s going to reclaim his Olympic title in Paris in August, but he’s looking powerful, and his strength really shouldn’t be a problem.

Perhaps he just needed some time to settle in properly after moving to the States, and find his groove with his American coach after spending his entire elite career with Ans Botha in Bloemfontein.

He is 31 years old, so he’s getting on a bit for a sprinter, but because he was sidelined for a few years, he still looks to have some running left in his legs.

Podium contenders

It has been said before, and it will probably be said again, but South Africa’s podium hopes at this year’s Olympics are not looking great. Outside the swimming pool, we’re not expecting much in terms of medals.

Considering their experience, however, and how good they’re looking in the early stages of the season, we cannot count out either Van Niekerk or fellow sprinter Akani Simbine in the chase for the Olympic podium.

Van Niekerk wasn’t even the fastest athlete in the 200m heats at the national championships, on Friday, clocking 20.57. Rising star Benjamin Richardson won his heat in 20.56.

But Van Niekerk cruised over the line, and based on his credentials, he will still be the favourite in today’s final. And if his form in the heats is anything to go by, he’s going to be a contender in Paris.

He is unlikely to be the favourite for Olympic gold, but he’ll be in with a real chance, and he’ll be confident of stepping on the podium.

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athletics Columns Olympic Games Wayde van Niekerk