South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk will not defend his 400m Olympic title on Tuesday after he failed to qualify for the final in a disappointing showing at the Tokyo Stadium.
Van Niekerk, who has endured three injury-riddled years, was simply not in his best form to be able to compete with a field that produced some blistering times. Van Niekerk was fifth in his race in a time of 45.14.
Van Niekerk suffered a number of injury setbacks since his world record-breaking run five years ago in Rio de Janeiro and his exit was not surprising given he made it to the semi-finals after finishing a lowly third during his heat.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed with the run,” he said in the immediate aftermath. “I expected more from myself, but it didn’t work out how I’d like it to have worked. But it is what it is, and we move forward.”
World champion Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas overtook Van Niekerk and his other opponents in the last 50 metres to win the third semi-final race and qualify third-fastest in 44.14.
“I felt very comfortable. I have more to go for the final. Get in there,” Gardiner told reporters. “My confidence is so high right now. It was a good semi and a good heat. Now we have one more round and then we all get to go home.”
James, who also took silver behind Van Niekerk Rio 2016 when the South African set a world record 43.03, looks odds on to win the gold medal after a superb semi-final.
“It would be perfect to get a third (medal),” James said. “It’s going to be competitive. I’m going to go out there and make my country proud. My body is good, it can be better.”
Colombian Anthony Zambrano, silver medallist at the 2019 world championships in Doha, pushed James all the way and set a new South American record of 43.93 to qualify second fastest.
The United States won seven straight golds in the event from 1984 to 2008 but the last two have eluded them, going to James and van Niekerk.
South Africa’s Wenda Nel finished seventh in the women’s 400m hurdles in 56.35 and would go no further in the competition. DM
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