Wayde van Niekerk. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Wayde van Niekerk. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Cape Town — Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk says that while the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus outbreak was a “downer” the delay will give him time to regain full fitness after a long period on the sidelines due to injury.

The 27-year-old was one of the standout performers of the 2016 Rio Games where he stormed to gold in a world record time of 43.03s, smashing the previous mark of 43.18s set by Michael Johnson in 1999.

But a serious knee injury sustained in a charity touch rugby game in October 2017 has meant Van Niekerk has seen little of the track since. He had just started his competitive comeback in the past few months, giving him little time to prepare for Tokyo.

“I’m trying to see the positive in it,” Van Niekerk was quoted as saying by the Daily Maverick on Wednesday. “I view it as more time to prepare, more time to work and more time to invest in my career. Tokyo is just another stepping stone to the entire legacy that I want to leave behind.”

Had the Games gone ahead as scheduled in July, Van Niekerk would have had few opportunities to test his knee and build up speed but he can now be more cautious in his return.

“This gives me more time to work and strengthen myself to be in even better shape for the Olympic Games.

“As much as it is a downer that it’s not happening this year, it will still happen. There is another opportunity for us as athletes to showcase our talent.”

At the same time US sprint star Allyson Felix says she will continue her pursuit of Olympic glory despite the postponement. After 16 years at the pinnacle of her sport, the 34-year-old American is in the last lap of a glittering career that has seen her earn 13 World Championship titles and six Olympic golds, the most of any female track and field athlete.

“I am not sure what the future holds, but my goals have not changed,” she wrote in an article posted on Time.com on Tuesday.

“I still hope to experience the feeling of standing on that podium in 2021. I hope my journey to try to get back there will inspire you to keep moving forward.”

Felix said that after learning the Games would be postponed she felt “alone, afraid and unsure”.

The Games have been postponed to 2021, the first such delay in the 124-year modern history of the event, as the coronavirus crisis wrecked the last international sporting showpiece still standing this year.

Reuters, AFP