Wayde van Niekerk is fit again
Injuries can dislodge even the very best from thrones they seemed destined to occupy forever. That’s the story of 400-metre world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk, the victim of a knee crunching foul in a charity rugby game. Happily, with American...
Injuries can dislodge even the very best from thrones they seemed destined to occupy forever. That’s the story of 400-metre world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk, the victim of a knee crunching foul in a charity rugby game. Happily, with American coach Lance Baumann leading the way, van Niekerk is inching his way back to the top level in the 400m.
At the Racers Grand Prix, the South African confirmed his fast early season runs with the best time ever run in the 400m in Jamaica, a dominating 44.21 seconds circuit. A day earlier, Baumann declared the 2015 and 2017 World Champion fit and ready to speed.
“Right this minute, he’s in great shape. I mean, he opened up the year, 44.9 and then two hours later, he ran 44.1 so he’s proven that he’s fit again. He’s training extremely well. I’m very happy with where he’s at in training. So now it’s just a matter of starting to put a few meets together and see how he recovers from meet to meet,” the coach said in a review of van Niekerk’s times of 44.95 and 44.17 seconds at the South African Championships on March 31 and April 1.
“I’m pleased,” Baumann offered, “He had a real injury, you know, more so than most people get in this sport. He has a little bit of ups and downs and then COVID-19 hit right in the middle of him trying to come back from it, you know, slowed things down a little bit and you know, just dealing with some aches and pains that evolved, manifested what happened around 2017.”
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, van Niekerk was on top of the world. His 2016 world record – 43.03 seconds – won him an Olympic gold medal and made him the best candidate to match the success American legend Michael Johnson had in the 400m. During that triumphant period, he became the first man to break 10 seconds in the 100, 20 seconds in the 200 and 44 seconds in the 400.
However, before the South African could chase down Johnson’s impressive total of two Olympic wins and four World Championship titles, his knee was crushed in a charity event. His championship momentum was lost.
Surgery and a change of coaches followed and in 2022, he clocked a respectable season’s best of 44.58 and placed fifth at the World Championships.
Baumann isn’t rushing the rebuild of history’s fastest 400m runner.
“We have to be a little bit more reserved on how much and how fast we get him soon. So we are in the process of taking our time and moving through the steps a little bit slower than normal, but at the same time, he’s eating it up and doing well,” the coach noted.
Baumann concluded by saying, “so I’m pleased at this point.”