Niekerk double bid could steal some of Usain Bolt's thunder
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[July 31, 2017]
By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Usain Bolt’s
farewell will be the major narrative at the world championships but
South African speedster Wayde van Niekerk’s bid for the 200 and 400m
double could steal some of his spotlight.
The Jamaican great has dubbed the 25-year-old Van Niekerk as the
sport's next superstar and that is likely to be reinforced at the
global showpiece event in London which starts on Friday.
But a showdown between the pair, who are good friends and trained
together in Jamaica this year, will not happen with Bolt running
only the 100m and relay to mark the end of his glittering career.
“One person I know who will step up, and he’s been doing good work,
is Van Niekerk. He’s shown that he really wants to take my place.
He’s been dominating in all events – I feel like if he runs the 800,
he’d probably do well also,” Bolt said before the Diamond League
meeting in Monaco last week in which Van Niekerk won the 400m with
the best time of the year.
Cape Town-born Van Niekerk is the reigning world champion and he
broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record to win Olympic Gold
in Rio de Janeiro last year.
All this in a race he dislikes.
“I think most everyone knows that the 400m is not my favorite
distance. I know it’s a bit crazy. I enjoy the shorter distances,"
"I try to tell myself that I need to be more positive about the
400m, it is the race that has placed me at the top."
This time Van Niekerk attempts the 200-400m double
that marked out Johnson as the star of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
after the ruling body of world athletics changed the London program
to make it possible.
[to top of second column]
Gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) of South Africa points to the
board showing his new world new record. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File
In June, he ran personal bests in both the 100m (9.94 seconds) and
200m (19.84) and a world record 30.81 in the rarely run 300m. Van
Niekerk is the only sprinter in history to have run the 100m in
under 10 seconds, the 200m in under 20 and the 400m in sub 44.
"I'm in great shape. My record of 300m has given me confidence, so I
look forward to see how it translates into the other two events,”
Van Niekerk added.
His coach Ans Botha, a 75-year-old grandmother, says they have been
training for both events since last year’s Olympics.
"It is the 400m that put him on the stage and which has made him
strong mentally, but Wayde doesn’t like it," she said.
"After Rio, he told me he needed new challenges and that he wanted
to double at the World Championships. I’ve had to adapt my program
because I'm there to share his dreams.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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