Stuart Weir has had a busy few weeks. European U23s, then Monaco, and now London, meets on Friday and Sunday!
Wayde is back – almost.
One of the delights of the Bislett Games this year was seeing Wayde van Niekerk in full flow and winning. The winner of the 2016 Olympics and 2015 and 2017 World Championships at 400m – he also took 200m silver in London 2017 – has PRs of 9.94 (100m), 19.84 (200m), and 43.03 (400).
He suffered a horrendous injury in October 2017, tearing his ACL while playing in a celebrity rugby match. He missed the 2018 and 2019 seasons, running six times in 2020. In 2021 he ran 9 times, including the Olympics, coming fifth in the Olympic 400m semi-final. In 2022 he ran eight times, including coming fifth in the World Championships in Oregon. At the 2022 Weltklasse, he won the 400m – but the B race. To be fair, his time was faster than all but the winner of the Diamond race.
Wayde Van Niekerk, WR holder, 400 meters, photo by Kevin Morris
In Oslo, he said to me that had no idea when he had last run a Diamond League race. The answer is 21 July 2017, all but 6 years ago.
He told me that running in Oslo was “tough” and stressed the “mental challenge,” explaining: “I just tried to stay strong and appreciate the moment. Us 400-meter runners, we had a little bit of a motivation session… we know how tough this event can be. I just tried to stay in the present and give it my best. It is difficult. I think it’s something that is a constant battle. Luckily I have great 44-second races that I can use as a reference moving forward. I am just thankful to God that I can run these races. It’s great that I have put out there a world-class time. I look forward to the upcoming races, and we’ll take it from there”.
Wayde Van Niekerk, London 2017, photo by Mike Deering, The Shoe Addicts
He explained that as an athlete, he is used to physical challenges and pushing his body to the limits. If the coach sets him a training routine, he would never say it was too difficult or be afraid to try it. But dealing with the mind was much harder, as he had explained at the pre-event press conference*: “It was a big learning curve getting back stronger than before after a big injury – it was a constant back and forth. There were days I thought I was done, but my heart would never let me give up – I’m a very spiritual person, so I allowed myself to lean on my faith in God in those difficult days. I’m always ready for a physical challenge, but I had to dig into vulnerable areas to work on myself mentally in my comeback. Once the performances improve, the head will fix itself”.
He added that he was still adopting a slightly cautious approach this season: “I’ve been working on my patience and managing my races correctly. I’m in a good moment now, so I hope to get back to running those aggressive times again” adding “I’m known as reckless on the track, putting my heart and soul into it, loving what I do. It’s important to stay healthy; that’s been very challenging for me as I’ve always wanted to give my best. I’m enjoying it again, and I appreciate what I have and can do. I want to make sure I utilize the next few years to perform even better”.
Wayde Van Niekerk, London 2017, photo by Mike Deering/The Shoe Addicts
It was a case of being patient, improving on the previous race, taking it race by race, getting quicker, and finally, he added, perhaps “causing a surprise at the World Champs in Budapest.” The only problem with that statement is how could a win by a double world and Olympic champion be described as a “surprise”?
Wayde will be running at the London Diamond League on Sunday, 23 July, at the London Stadium. For tickets, visit britishathletics.org.uk.The London Athletics Meet is set to be the biggest one-day athletics meet in the world this year. Ticket sales are fast approaching the 50,000 capacity for the event.
*Press conference quotes supplied by Carol Austin.