The world 400m record holder, Wayde Van Niekerk finished his Tuesday ( 3) race at Potchefstroom meet with a surprise injury scare after laying down after finishing the race on the side of the track for about half an hour; receiving physiotherapy before getting up to sign autographs for young fans.
He sheared the left start block off the frame at the start of his 400m race as the block bounced backwards a few metres and the Olympic champion slipped badly, forcing him to play catch-up before winning the race in 45.92sec.
He was not worried about how much faster he might have gone without the mishap — which occurred on the second set of start blocks after the first one he was supposed to use in lane five also had a faulty left block.
Van Niekerk, holder of the 43.03 world record, was more concerned with the finish of his race. “I could feel the lactic starting to build up in the last 150m and that is my indication that I have some work to do,” said Van Niekerk, who looked disappointed as he crossed the line.
“I need to get some races in my legs, just to get the nerves and momentum back into my mind and my body so I’m prepared for next year.”
The delayed Tokyo Games are his major target, and he must still qualify for the showpiece, needing to get below 44.90sec after the qualifying window opens in December.
“The SA season is normally something I take for granted,” he said, praising his rivals for pushing him. “Hopefully I can get more challenges like that to mentally get myself past the barrier that I’m trying to break through, into that international sphere because I haven’t competed in the longest of times.
“It’s nice to have some races in the legs and challenging the legs to get tired.”
His coach, Tannie Ans Botha, was furious after the race, complaining loudly that her athlete might have injured himself. Her mantra is about maintaining the health and longevity of all members of her training squad.
The metal clip holding the left block onto the frame literally sheared right off, though Van Niekerk said he felt before the race that something like that was going to happen.
Van Niekerk is hoping to return to Potchefstroom twice in the next two weeks, though he had been hoping to do shorter races — from 60m to 200m — though Tuesday’s result had him thinking he might want another crack at the 400m.
“This was going to be the 400m race for me to get a bit more volume. Maybe I’ll do another one. I’ll see how my training goes,” said Van Niekerk, whose European season was almost obliterated after failing a Covid-19 test and being forced to self-isolate for three weeks.
He ended up racing only once there, going 45.58 in Switzerland in mid-September.
That and Tuesday night are his two fastest runs since returning from the right knee injury in late 2017.
He last competed in Potchefstroom early that year, winning the SA 200m title.