South Africa

SA ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Wayde van Niekerk seems to have shaken off his injury blues after an imperious SA Champs display

Wayde van Niekerk seems to have shaken off his injury blues after an imperious SA Champs display
Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa competing on Men's 400 metres during the World Athletics Championships on July 17, 2022 in Eugene, United States (Photo: Andy Astfalck /BSR Agency /Getty Images)

World-renowned South African runner Wayde van Niekerk was in ominously outstanding form in the recently concluded three-day South African Athletics Championships in Potchefstroom.

Not even a misfiring starting pistol (the first of the final day) could curtail Wayde van Niekerk’s charge to once again be crowned South Africa’s 400m king at this year’s South African Athletics Championships (SA Champs), which culminated on Saturday.

The world record holder in the distance cruised home comfortably in the final. Despite his 44.17 seconds to claim a world leading time for 2023, he seemed to have hardly broken a sweat. The time is also Van Niekerk’s fastest since his career-threatening knee injury in late 2017.

Van Niekerk was cool as ice as he systematically hunted down the early pacesetters, showing no signs of discomfort or strain as he reeled in his challengers with every stride.

World under-20 champion Lythe Pillay tried his best to mount an attack on the elder statesman, but eventually had to settle for silver. The youngster crossed the finish line in 44.80 seconds. Garedo Isaacs took the bronze in 45.47. 

Defending champion Zakithi Nene missed out on a podium finish this year, ending the race in fourth.

‘I feel good’

As for Van Niekerk, he reclaimed the national title he last held in 2016 – the same year of his Olympic Games heroics – to the satisfaction of the raucous crowd that had gathered in numbers at the McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom to catch a glimpse of one the superstars of global athletics.

“I feel good. It was a great run, a great competition. I must say thank you to the crowd – they cheered us on, and it became really motivating,” the 30-year-old told SuperSport after the race.

“We were so focused on the race ahead, but it played a big role in crossing the finish line,” added Van Niekerk on the support of the spectators.

It’s Van Niekerk’s fifth national championship crown in the distance. He looks to have shaken off the serious injury he suffered during a charity touch rugby match six years ago, which was followed by a series of other injury setbacks in recent seasons.

“My body feels strong and I’m handling the rounds well. There’s a holistic package I’m working on. Hopefully it will all come together at the World Championships later this year,” he said.

Van Niekerk – who is based in the American state of Florida – has just begun his training for the season. To be running so fluidly early on in the season will inject him with major confidence as he seeks to reclaim his spot as one of the best athletes in the world.

“I want to be back on the podium and get back to winning gold medals and challenging world records,” the runner told Olympics.com before the three-day athletics festival commenced on Thursday, 30 March.  

If he manages to remain fully fit throughout the season his opponents are set for a tough time. He is primed to return to making history after an arduous trek to full fitness.

Double delight

Winner of the women’s 400m race Miranda Coetzee also shone on the final day of the SA Champs. She won the final in a personal best time of 51.04 seconds – holding off Marlie Viljoen (51.87) and Shirley Nekhubui (52.20).

Coetzee was not done for the day, claiming the 200m gold in another personal best time (22.74 seconds) to end the day with double delight. Armand van der Walt was the victor in the men’s equivalent – crossing the line in 20.50 seconds.

Even more impressive is that Coetzee only had a turnaround time of about 90 minutes between the two events, and had been unsure whether it would be enough for her to recover following her 400m effort on another sunny day in Potchefstroom.

Middle-distance runner Prudence Sekgodiso also managed to secure double gold on the final day. She won the women’s 1,500m final in 4:17.22. She then returned to the track to take the 800m title in 2:03.92.

In the field Leandri Geel set a new national record in the women’s hammer throw. She threw a distance of 65.18m to obliterate the previous mark, set by Marga Cumming who reached 64.31m in 2021.

Cumming settled for the silver medal with a 60.60m heave and Tamlynn Leonard took bronze with a best attempt of 58.98m. DM

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