Friday, 07 July 2017 17:42

van Niekerk Hopes To Honor Bolt & Take Up Baton

JOHANNESBURG - Willing and able to be the heir to Usain Bolt’s throne as sprinting king, Wayde van Niekerk knows full well that the title won't be handed to him on a platter.
Speaking ahead of Thursday's Lausanne Diamond League meeting where he will be racing his first international 400m of the season, Van Niekerk said the year was about honouring Bolt for his track and field legacy.

“This year is really just time for us to go out there and thank him for what he had done for the sport and, obviously, as the new generation, I would like to take the baton and continue doing great things,” Van Niekerk said at an IAAF Diamond League press conference.

“Obviously, with that comes a lot of hard work and years, so I know for me right now is to focus on my performances and try and pull out good times as an athlete.”

The South African 400m world record-holder has been showing improvements in the shorter distances, racing to new personal bests in the 100, 200, and 300m so far this season.

Van Niekerk sprinted to a new South African 200m record in Kingston, Jamaica last month with a time of 19.84 seconds. He then shaved 0.04 off his 100m time of 9.94 in Velenje, 10 days later.

Last week he added another feather to his cap, when he broke another Michael Johnson world mark as he posted a new 300m world best of 30.81 seconds at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting.

He knocked 0.04 off the previous mark Johnson set in Pretoria back in 2000.

Judging by Van Niekerk’s form over all three distances, the question of whether he would become the first man to dip below 43 seconds over the one-lap sprint has instead changed to when he will do it.

The South African has proven that one can expect the ‘ridiculous’ every time he backs into the blocks.

All eyes will be firmly on the clock in Lausanne, where he will give the best indication of his form ahead of his world title-defence in London next month.

“I feel quite confident on how I’ve been performing so far, I definitely know I am in good shape when it comes to every single distance below 400 metres, except the 400m,” Van Niekerk said.

“I’m excited to see what foot will come first and how I will do, but you know me by now, I will put my best foot forward and try and put a good show out there.”

Five more South Africans will be in action in the Swiss city, including Rio Olympics women’s javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen.

Viljoen has been flying below the radar and will be competing in only her fifth meeting of the season. Her season’s best of 63.49m at the national championships in Potchefstroom in April, ranks her 11th in the world and she would be looking to take some form into the world championships.

South African short-sprint specialists, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies, will have a second bite of the 100m cherry two days after racing in Budapest.

Simbine narrowly missed out on the top step of the podium when former world champion Justin Gatlin beat him to the line by 0.01 with Bruintjies missing out on a medal by the same margin.

South African record-holder Simbine posted his 14th sub-10 second time for his second place, with Bruintjies clocking a creditable 10.11.

The duo will again line up against Gatlin and fellow American Isiah Young, who finished third in the 100m race in Budapest.

The South African contingent is rounded off by one-lap hurdlers LJ van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks as they look to chase down the A-qualifying standard for the world championships.

They will have to dip well below 49 seconds to earn their places of the global showpiece with the standard set at 48.50.

Van Zyl has a season’s best of 49.29, while Fredericks’ fastest time this year is 49.27.

South African Van Niekerk wins & sets world-leading 400-meter time of 43.62

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - South African Wayde van Niekerk cruised to victory in the Diamond League 400 meters on Thursday in his first international race since he set the world record at last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Van Niekerk broke American Michael Johnson's world record with a 43.03 seconds performance in Rio but cut his 2016 season short and had so far this year competed only in low-key races in South Africa.

He looked sharp as he set a meeting record of 43.62 seconds in Lausanne, bettering Johnson once again whose record here had held since 1996.

Van Niekerk got off to a solid start and gradually reined in his opponents before sprinting clear with 60 meters left. Botswana's Baboloki Thebe and Isaac Makwala grabbed second and third respectively.

American Justin Gatlin warmed up for the world championships with a win in the men's 100m in a time of 9.96 seconds, beating Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite who took second place.

"I felt good. Getting to the line, I had top speed to finish strong," Gatlin said. "I'm consistent, under 10 seconds, I'm getting stronger. Now I have a month to train and (to) see a new me at the world championships (in London)."

Ethiopia's Olympic women's 1,500m silver medalist Genzebe Dibaba tried to break the mile world record 25 years after the race was last run at the Pontaise Stadium but her scintillating effort was outside that mark by some three seconds at 4:16.05.

Her compatriot Aman Wote opened up a large gap in the men's 1,500m but had to work hard to finish first ahead of Kenyan duo Charles Simotwo and third-placed Silas Kiplagat.

The United States took the first six places in the women's 100m hurdles though there was some confusion regarding the photo-finish with organizers issuing two different results before Shari Nelvis was eventually declared the winner.

The Netherlands' world champion and Olympic silver medalist Dafne Schippers won the 200m in 22.10 seconds and is peaking at the right time before her world title defense next month.

Croatia’s Olympic javelin champion Sara Kolak won with a throw of 68.43m ahead of Czech world record holder Barbora Spotakova and Australian Kathryn Mitchell.

Ethiopian Muktar Edris weathered a late challenge from 17-year-old countryman Selemon Barega to win the 5,000m in 12:55:23 seconds, the first sub-13 minute time of the season.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)