Wayde van Niekerk. Picture: REUTERS
Wayde van Niekerk. Picture: REUTERS

Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk belatedly confirmed he will defend his title at the Tokyo Games, finishing inside the qualifying time in Madrid on Saturday.

Beset by injury since his Rio heroics five years ago, the South African ran 44.56 at the Continental Tour event at Estadio Vallehermoso to finish 0.34 sec inside the qualifying time, though he was runner-up to Colombia’s Anthony Jose Zambrano.

It was the first time the world record holder had run under 45 sec for four years but he has barely competed since being injured in a charity touch rugby game in October 2017.

Van Niekerk, who smashed Michael Johnson’s 400m world record at the 2016 Rio Olympics to claim gold in 43.03, moved in May to train in the US under sprint mentor Lance Brauman, who has had him concentrating on the 200m. But a bid to qualify for 200m in Boston in May ended up with him pulling up before the finish line, sparking more concerns about his fitness.

Van Niekerk, however, said at the time it was precautionary and has since told reporters he is excited and optimistic about the year.

Meanwhile, Caster Semenya failed again to qualify for the 5,000m at the Sparkassen Gala in Germany on Saturday night.

Semenya clocked 15:57.12 — 47 sec outside the qualifying time of 15:10.00 to ensure her place at the Olympics, from July 23 to August 8.

The two-time 800m Olympic goal medallist finished fourth in Regensburg as local athlete Miriam Dattke won the race in 15:34.92.

Semenya’s European manager said before the Regensburg meeting that the runner would try again on June 30 in Belgium, though the qualifying cut-off is set for the day before.



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