On Track To Greatness

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In June, 21-year-old Wayde Van Niekerk crushed the 15-year-old South African 400m record when he clocked 44.38 seconds for a second place finish at the Diamond League meeting in New York. The young sprint prodigy chats to Modern Athlete about his improving times and what he expects at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

There’s a new speedster making headlines on the track, and Wayde van Niekerk’s new national 400m record is a significant improvement on the old mark of 44:59, set by Arnaud Malherbe way back in 1999 and then equalled by Hendrik Mokganyetsi in 2000. Wayde’s record was made even sweeter with a huge leap from his previous best of 44.92. Just two weeks later, he stormed to victory in 20.53 in the men’s 200m at the Sollentuna Grand Prix meet in Stockholm. It was a little slower than the impressive 20.21 he ran in Pretoria in April, just 0.10 seconds off Morne Nagel’s 12-year-old SA record of 20.11, but it once again showed that this young man is on the verge of really great things.

MA: Congrats on your record run! Did you expect to break it, and what does it mean to you?

Wayde: It’s been a goal of mine to beat the record and the run was a blessing. I went out feeling extremely nervous, but then the race started and before I knew it, I was in front with the Olympic and World Champ, LaShawn Merritt from the States. I held on as long as I possibly could. It’s only then that I realised I got the national record! Getting it this soon in my career just gives me more confidence to set higher goals for myself each year. Throughout my career, I’ve had amazing support from family and friends. On and off the track, there are so many people encouraging me and supporting my dream, and it’s so special that they’re sharing in this now.

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MA: Where did your love of athletics begin, and have you always been sporty?

Wayde: Yes, we were a sporty family. I was always playing games in the streets, parks and at school, with my cousins and friends. As a kid, I tried everything out there – tennis, rugby, athletics and squash. You name it, I tried it! Eventually, in high school, I pursued athletics and my teacher referred me to a coach where I improved and started growing in the sport. That’s when my dreams and goals started to develop into something more.

MA: What does a typical training week look like and is it dependent on competition? Does your diet also play an important part in that preparation?

Wayde: It is fairly dependent on competitions. I train five to six days a week and adjust my training depending on how my body feels, or if I need rest. I usually do strengthening in the gym in the mornings and do a long track session in the afternoon. With regards to my diet, obviously it’s very important, but it is a weakness of mine, I must admit! But I’m improving there, and it’s something I’m set getting disciplined on.

I’m lucky to have seen the world with running. I’m a great fan of Europe, but nothing beats South Africa and some of our venues, in my opinion. The best track I still stand by is Pelliespark back home in Bloemfontein, where I often train.

MA: Looking ahead, your plans have been focused on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow at the end of July going into August, but what comes after that, and what are your goals for the next few years?

Wayde: Hopefully I will have done well at the Games, and then I hope to step up and improve my times in the 200m in the next few years. I have the World Championships to look forward to next year, which is key if I want to get to the Olympics in 2016!

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