Wayde is Back!


Wayde van Niekerk proved he’s well on the way back to his finest form, running the fastest time since his career-threatening 2017 injury to claim the national 400m title at the SA Track and Field Championships in Potchefstroom on Saturday, and providing just one of the many highights of the final day of action. – BY KARIEN JONCKHEERE

When he clocked 44.95 seconds to win his semi-final round of the men’s 400m, Wayde van Niekerk gave a hint of things to come, and then dropped to a comfortable-looking 44.17 in the final to claim his first national 400m title since 2016 – the same year he broke the world record. Van Niekerk admitted afterwards that while his body is feeling good, the mental side of his performance still needs some work. “My body is perfect, my body feels strong. I am handling the rounds well – it’s just the holistic package that I’m working on and hopefully it will all come together,” he said.

“Honestly, I just want to survive right now. I just want to overcome straining the body physically and mentally, pushing barriers and challenging myself. Today I can say I crossed the line healthy. I was far from where I wanted to be mentally, but I overcame that and ran a good time. It was tough… you’ve seen the rollercoaster since my injury, and with that comes a lot of mental battles and challenges, questions and doubts, and just trying to fight through it, but I’m grateful to put down a time that gives me hope.”

Also impressing in the 400m was World Junior Champion Lythe Pillay, who ran the first sub-45-second time of his career with a 44.94 in the semifinal, and then he went even quicker for his silver medal behind Van Niekerk, crossing the finish line in 44.80. Van Niekerk credited the youngster for spurring him on to such a speedy time. “That’s why I ran what I ran today. I wouldn’t have run a race like that if I thought the competition was easy,” said the 2016 Olympic champion.

Results to Write Home ABout

The qualifying time in the men’s 400m for the World Championships in Budapest later this year is 45 seconds, meaning both Van Niekerk and Pillay dipped under that mark twice on Saturday. The other qualifier of the day was Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Zeney van der Walt, who showed impressive form in the women’s 400m hurdles to take a third national title in 54.82.

“I just focused on my own race, so I didn’t hear anyone or see anyone. I wanted to run a sub-55, and I’m very grateful for that,” said Van der Walt. “It felt like a really nice race. I kept calm, focused, and my race plan went almost as perfectly as I wanted it to.”

Meanwhile, there were two impressive doubles completed on Saturday with Miranda Coetzee claiming both the women’s 400m and 200m just a few hours apart, while Prudence Sekgodiso successfully defended her 800m and 1500m titles. Coetzee claimed both her gold medals in personal best times, securing 400m honours in 51.04 and the 200m in 22.74. “I just had to fix my mindset. That’s the only thing that I had to do there. I came here with a goal because normally I write them down, so I told God that I’m going to come back with two gold medals, and that’s what I did, so I’m just so thankful,” she said.

Sekgodiso claimed the 1500m in a time of 4:17.22, and followed that up with the 800m victory in 2:03.92. “I came here knowing I was going to take on the double, so the only things that I came here for was to defend both my titles and also to run sub-2:05 in the 800m. I did that and I’m over the moon,” she said.

The other notable performance of the day came from hammer thrower Leandri Geel, who only switched to the event from discus four years ago. Coached by former Commonwealth Games champion and multiple SA Champion Chris Harmse, Geel has gone from strength to strength, and on Saturday she broke the South African women’s record with a final-round effort of 65.18m. “It’s such a relief to get it, because I’ve been working so hard and it just all fell into place today,” said an elated Geel afterwards.