Van Niekerk still in contention for a medal as he qualifies for semi-finals
The world's fastest man over 400m Wayde Van Niekerk produced a mature performance during the heats to book a place in the Olympic semifinals of his signature event. Even though Van Niekerk came third in 45:25 in a race won by Anthony Zambrano of Colombia, he never looked troubled as he booked his place in today's (Monday 2 August) semi-finals based on placing as one of the top three finishers in his heat.
Van Niekerk, who set a world record of 43:03 during the Rio 2016 Olympics five years ago was racing in just his third 400m race of 2021 after overcoming injuries that have plagued him since his knee surgery in November 2017. The 29-year-old Kraaifointein born athlete feels he still has what its take to go faster in the games and book his spot in the finals.
"I was aiming for top two but I didn't happen. But I'm still happy that I'm still at the Olympics," said Van Niekerk while speaking to the SASCOC media team in Japan. "It's was nice. I had a very good 200m. The more I run then I would be more in control. I'm in the semifinals so I must do more," he said.
The reigning Olympic champion who recently moved to the United States to live and train there has dedicated this Olympics to his people in South Africa. "It's definitely been a tough few years as my country is going through a lot. So I had to try to be a shining light at this moment through fighting my injury and setbacks." Van Niekerk will carry the nation's hopes of an athletics medal after Akani Simbine came fourth in his 100m race. His semi-finals starts on 13:21 in South African time.
Meanwhile the man who reached the semi-finals in the 400m at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Thapelo Phora was eliminated following a fifth place finish in his heat. The only native KwaZulu-Natal athlete in South Africa's athletics team at #Tokyo2021 Zakithi Nene also took fifth place to be knocked out of the heats.