London — Wayde van Niekerk will not bask in the glow of being dubbed the next big track star by Usain Bolt, but instead vowed to work hard to live his dream.
He was speaking at a media conference on Wednesday, one day after Bolt’s at which the Jamaican had tipped the 400m world-record holder to become the sport’s next headline act.
Van Niekerk did not quite pull the numbers Bolt did, but he still packed out the venue in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
It was a far cry from the last world championships in Beijing two years ago, when just one colleague and this reporter interviewed Van Niekerk in his hotel. Now the interest is too high for such intimate opportunities and there are set time limits. Then, Van Niekerk was aiming to make the podium; now he is trying to become the second man after Michael Johnson to win the 400m-200m double at a world championship.
Van Niekerk said greatness could not be passed on by Bolt’s pronouncements. "It’s one thing someone saying he can be the next great thing, but it’s another thing working for that greatness," he said.
"This is a dream that I need to fight for and I need to fight for it as hard as I can," said Van Niekerk, who begins the defence of his 400m crown on Saturday.
He joked he owed Bolt for the compliments he had been paid lately. "He told me he’ll send my invoice because he’s been putting me out there quite a lot.
"It’s an honour to be able to learn and rub shoulders with a great like Usain. His impact on the sport has been massive and now I’m having the opportunity to build a small relationship with him and I continue my journey…. It gives me a lot of excitement to see what lies in store for me but … I know there’s a lot of responsibility for me to go out there and work for where I want to be."
Asked if he would have liked to have raced against Bolt, Van Niekerk replied: "Obviously, he’s a great athlete, but it was definitely going to be a tough race because I [would be doing] 100s and 200s against him and that’s where he specialises and that’s where I still need to work on.
"Eventually, I’d love to reach the heights that Usain has."
Van Niekerk has always been torn between the 400m, an event he hates but has excelled at, and the 200m and 100m races that he loves.
But he could not see himself dropping the one-lap from his roster, even if he were to dip under 43sec.