Wayde van Niekerk: ‘I’ve gone back to fighting for my dream from scratch’

Author : harisjamals
Publish Date : 2021-03-09 19:54:06


Wayde van Niekerk: ‘I’ve gone back to fighting for my dream from scratch’

“It was definitely more mental than physical,” Wayde van Niekerk says as the Olympic 400m champion and world record holder charts his slow recovery from a devastating knee injury that threatened to end his career. In October 2017, while playing a charity tag rugby match in Cape Town, the South African tore both his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus cartilage in his right leg.

Van Niekerk had just won another gold medal in the 400m at the world championships in London, as well as silver in the 200m, and he looked ready to fulfil Usain Bolt’s prediction that he would become the sport’s next superstar. His renown was built on a brilliant performance in the 2016 Olympic final in Rio when he ran the 400m in 43.03sec and shattered the world record Michael Johnson had held since 1999. Van Niekerk’s injury was crushing because he missed the next two years, while his subsequent comeback was derailed by the pandemic.

“Obviously with an injury like that,” Van Niekerk says, “you need to be very patient when it comes to your physical recovery. But mentally you think the same way you’ve always thought. You want to be back on the track, you’re ready to challenge your records, you want to compete against the best in the world but physically that’s no longer your reality. So mentally I had to make a big shift. It took a while but I believe I made the right decisions to get myself in the best position I can be at the Olympic Games later this year.”

Van Niekerk, who is 28, makes the startling claim that he might run the 400m faster than he did at his absolute peak. “I think I can,” he says. “I’ve shown a lot of positive signs in training of being faster than before and I’ve matured way more mentally. But I know it’s one thing doing it in training and a different thing back on the track. So it’s really about getting that consistency in terms of being a competitor.”

The notion that Van Niekerk might run the 400m under 43 seconds has been touted before, but surely such a feat is beyond him now? “Well, having 43.03 as my current record, sub-43 is my only next step to take. There’s no other area to go in terms of a personal best. It means going sub-43.”

Does he really think he can run this fast? “I believe so,” Van Niekerk says before echoing himself for emphasis. “I believe so.”
Wayde van Niekerk in action during his world record performance in the men’s 400m final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Wayde van Niekerk during his world record performance in the men’s 400m final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
The notion that Van Niekerk might run the 400m under 43 seconds has been touted before, but surely such a feat is beyond him now? “Well, having 43.03 as my current record, sub-43 is my only next step to take. There’s no other area to go in terms of a personal best. It means going sub-43.”

Does he really think he can run this fast? “I believe so,” Van Niekerk says before echoing himself for emphasis. “I believe so.”
Wayde van Niekerk in action during his world record performance in the men’s 400m final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Wayde van Niekerk during his world record performance in the men’s 400m final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images


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