Though his latest comeback was limited to one race, world record holder Wayde van Niekerk says his performance this week has reinforced his confidence as he aims to defend his Olympic 400m title in Tokyo next year.
Competing in his first international race in more than three years, following a lengthy injury hiatus and another brief setback after he tested positive for Covid-19 last month, Van Niekerk won the men’s one-lap race at a European Tour meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday night.
He clocked 45.58, and while his time was more than two seconds outside his own global best of 43.03, it was the 28-year-old sprinter’s quickest 400m time since he picked up a serious knee injury in 2017.
“It was a good ice breaker, considering the circumstances I’ve had to go through the last few months, not being able to be as consistent as I’d like to be,” Van Niekerk said, after emerging from 25 days of self-isolation to make his long-awaited return to competition.
Having displayed impressive form over the 100m and 200m distances on home soil earlier this year, Van Niekerk admitted his frustration after his international comeback had been disrupted by a positive coronavirus test.
After finally getting a chance to stretch his legs in a race, however, he was eager to continue his build-up to the postponed Tokyo Games.
While fellow South African athletes Akani Simbine (100m), Antonio Alkana (110m hurdles) and Zane Weir (shot put) were included in the entry lists for the Diamond League meeting in Rome on Thursday night – just a plane hop from Van Niekerk’s base in Gemona – he opted to skip the event and return home from his European camp in order to focus on his preparation for the 2021 season.
Though he had a long way to go to find his best form, Van Niekerk believed he still had the ability to stand out against the world’s fastest men.
“It has been a bit of a roller coaster year, but I feel comfortable and confident for the upcoming season and the Olympic Games,” he said.
“I still have enough time to get myself ready for the Games, so it’s just about putting in the correct work and making sure I’m investing in the right areas for me to be ready.
“For now, it’s time to get back to the drawing board and start sharpening up the edges.”