2 minute read
26 Jun 2014
8:24 am

Wayde van Niekerk drops down in distance

In his first race since smashing the South African 400m record, sprinter Wayde van Niekerk will drop down in distance as he attempts to ascertain which track event suits him best.

FILE PICTURE: Wayde van Niekerk. Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

Van Niekerk will line up in the men’s 200m race at the Sollentuna Grand Prix, a track and field permit meeting in Stockholm on Thursday night.

“I’ve just arrived in Sweden and pre-race preparations have been good on the track and in the gym,” he said late Wednesday.

Having finished fourth in the men’s 200m final at the World Junior Championships in Moncton four years ago, Van Niekerk hoped to prove he was still a force in the half-lap sprint, lining up as the fastest man in the field in Stockholm.

Despite narrowly missing the SA half-lap record in April, however, he confirmed he would not target Morne Nagel’s long-standing mark in Stockholm, though he was likely to do so next month, with two 200m races scheduled at more prestigious meetings in Europe.

And while he was eager to break the half-lap record this season, he remained unsure whether he would focus on the 200m or 400m events, or both, as his senior career progressed.

“I’m open minded about both. Whichever one shines most will be my main focus.”

Van Niekerk competed in the top-flight international senior campaign for the first time last season, and while he struggled against the global elite and was eliminated in the first round of the men’s 400m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, he bounced back with some breakthrough performances this year.

The 21-year-old prodigy won the national 400m title in Pretoria in April, clocking 44.92 seconds to dip under the 45-second barrier for the first time.

Two weeks later he displayed a stunning turn of speed to win the SA student 200m crown in Pretoria in 20.21 seconds, narrowly missing Nagel’s 13-year-old national mark of 20.11.

Earlier this month, Van Niekerk took another step up, producing the performance of his life to finish second behind American world champion LaShawn Merritt at the Diamond League meeting in New York.

He crossed the line in 44.38 seconds to smash the 15-year-old SA one-lap record of 44.59 jointly held by Arnaud Malherbe and Hendrik Mokganyetsi.

“I was given a nice programme to rebuild (after New York) and get ready for the next one. It’s all gone well,” he said.

Three other rising South African track and field stars will compete in Stockholm.

Rushwal Samaai turns out in the men’s long jump event, Justine Palframan lines up in the women’s 200m sprint and Rikenette Steenkamp goes in the women’s 100m hurdles race.