Wayde van Niekerk’s 0.02 seconds of heartbreak
After missing out on the double gold in a tight race marred by conspiracy theories, SA’s sprint star will turn his attention to a different double
London — Wayde van Niekerk will target another double at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year‚ but this time the 100m-200m.
The two-time 400m titleholder ended the world championships in London in tears on Thursday night after taking the silver medal in the 200m.
Van Niekerk was two-hundredths of a second short of matching Michael Johnson’s double from 1995‚ a feat that will survive at least another two years‚ possibly much longer.
This season Van Niekerk broke Johnson’s 300m world best and 400m Diamond League record‚ but the 400m-200m double at a single championships was fractionally out of his reach.
It was a tight race‚ won by Turkey’s Azerbaijan-born Ramil Guliyev in 20.09sec — the slowest winning time since 2003.
Van Niekerk edged Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago into bronze by one-thousandth of a second.
The South African‚ who raced six days in a row‚ said he would like to lower his 400m world record — of 43.03 — but suggested he was less likely to do it in major competitions from now on.
"The 400m I’d love to have that as an individual event so I’d love to improve my world record again.
"The only doubles I think I would consider now is the 100m and 200m‚" he said.
Asked whether that meant putting the 400m on the backburner‚ Van Niekerk replied: "I’ve been thinking of it. I’d love to do a bit of 100m and 200m at the Commonwealth next year."
The Commonwealth Games will be held in the Gold Coast in April 2018.
"But obviously [I’m] going to have to do some 400s as well at the Diamond Leagues and World Challenges and so on.
"We haven’t really thought that far. We’re all focusing on the double this week and I think after this season we’ll sit with coach [Ans Botha] and decide where we’re going to invest our time."
Van Niekerk said the two hardest days were the 400m final on Tuesday and Wednesday’s 200m semifinals‚ where he had to qualify as one of the fastest losers.
"I had two days of freezing competition. Yesterday‚ I didn’t get much sleep because obviously I had a massive high after the 400m finals and then had to try and recover.
"The semifinals were difficult‚ I had to dig deep. Last night’s rest was much better. I wouldn’t say I recovered 100%‚ but I recovered quite well."
Botha wept after hugging Van Niekerk several minutes after the 200m final‚ and the runner and his Botswana rival‚ sixth-placed Isaac Makwala‚ were also in tears.
Makwala was barred from the 400m final after falling ill with a suspected case of norovirus‚ and accusations of a conspiracy soon emerged with claims the IAAF‚ the sport’s world governing body‚ was trying to protect Van Niekerk.
Olympic 400m champion Van Niekerk broke down during an interview with BBC soon after the race‚ telling them he deserved his success.
"That really did upset me a bit‚" he said‚ explaining his emotional display at the post-race press conference later.
"Especially the amount of respect I’ve shown each and every competitor I compete against‚ including Makwala‚ and for him to come out and mention my name among something fishy happening in the IAAF … I think I definitely deserve way more respect from my competitors."
Makwala‚ who ended sixth in this race‚ told journalists he felt the 400m was his best chance.
He broke down as he left the mixed zone‚ where journalists get to interview athletes‚ taking a full minute or so before moving on‚ still wiping his eyes.
For Makwala‚ it was his third championships and still no medal. This was also Van Niekerk’s third championships‚ but this was his third medal.
SA now has five medals‚ with a sixth likely from Caster Semenya in the 800m on Sunday.