Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

‘I just want to enjoy the sport again’, says Wayde van Niekerk

"It has become more challenging for me to put myself in a position where I'm enjoying my events."

Looking and sounding calm and relaxed, Wayde van Niekerk says he is in a healthy space as he focusses on regaining his love for sprinting.

A former world and Olympic champion, and the current 400m world record holder, Van Niekerk had achieved more at the age of 25 than most athletes do in their entire careers.

A knee injury which nearly derailed his career left him struggling to regain his best form in recent years, but he said yesterday he was in a good space.

Season opener

Competing in his first individual race of the year (after opening his season in a 4x400m relay in the US), Van Niekerk won his 200m heat in 20.58 seconds at the SA Athletics Championships in Pietermaritzburg.

He was the second fastest qualifier for Saturday’s semifinals, with 20-year-old Benjamin Richardson going quickest, taking his heat in 20.57.

“It was comfortable. I felt a little bit rusty in some areas during the race, but I think once you get your legs exposed to that, those things start freeing up,” said 31-year-old Van Niekerk.

“I ran quite a solid time, feeling the way I did, and hopefully the next two (semifinals and final) will be better.”

Working on ‘mental areas’

Aiming to reclaim his Olympic title at the Paris Games later this year, he said he was just trying to enjoy his running in the early stages of the 2024 campaign.

“I went through a tough time with the injury and there were a lot of mental areas I had to work on, which you kind of neglect when you’re winning,” he said.

“To have achieved as much as I did at a young age, it has become more challenging for me to put myself in a position where I’m enjoying my events.

“So I’ve just tried to educate and expose myself on what is needed in those spaces for me to be enjoying the sport again.”

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