Wayde Van Niekerk dreams, of swift 400 meter races, by Alex Mills


VanNiekerk_Wayde-Beijing15.JPGThe World Champs 400m, Merritt, James, Van Niekerk, photo by PhotoRun.net

The Men's 400 meters was one of the highlights of the World Championships. LaShawn Merritt went out like a bat out of hell, in effect, doing the pace setting for Wayde Van Niekerk. In the perfect storm, Van Niekert put together a near perfect race, LaShawn Merritt ran the best he has in half a decade and Kirani James learned that he truly has competition.

For us, the media and fans, the men's 400 meters for Rio could be something extraordinary!

Here is Alex Mills' piece from the 400 meter presser in Zurich on September 2, 2015.

When Wayde van Niekerk fainted after his astounding world championship victory, there was serious worries for his well being and long term ability to recover from running so fast.

Luckily, the South African was ultimately all fine, with the issue proving to just be a case of temporary exhaustion. Now he's in Zurich, looking to win another title by taking victory in the Diamond race.

He'll have it tough though, as he goes in a 400m that includes six of the eight finalists from Beijing 2015, including his now big rivals Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt. Both of whom will probably be seeking revenge.

Both van Niekerk and James were at the pre-event press conference to talk about their upcoming battle. James currently leads the DL standing by two points from his rival.

Speaking about the upcoming battle James seemed pumped for what could happen: "It's going to be very exciting, we all know everybody's abilities and we all want to perform well." he said.

Whatever their finishing times may be, this field is another example of how the 400m men, unlike other sprinters, don't doge their opponents. This is something van Niekerk puts down to their high regard for one another: "It's our way of showing each other respect I just need to show everyone the respect they deserve and give it my all when it matters."

You suspect that he too, will warrant an even greater level of respect now, not just on the track, but back home in South Africa. Speaking briefly about the reception he's been given by his compatriots since winning gold, he seemed overwhelmed: "It's definitely been an amazing experience for myself, this is still all new to me. I think I'll probably be able to interact with everyone once I'm back home. It was great to see such an amazing togetherness, to see that we all got to celebrate this achievement as a team and as a family. This is all our journey, not justly own journey, so it's really just great to experience this all together." he reflected.

As for the world final itself, van Niekerk insisted that he had not felt like an underdog going into the race despite being aware of the high calibre of his opponents: "I knew for the race I had the quality line-up against me, I never had a chance to relax in the warm up. I didn't really consider myself to be an underdog but I definitely knew that I had to put my foot down into being a finalist and luckily for me I was blessed with the gold medal. It was really an amazing feeling. Knowing that I'd actually broke through and felt like I belong among the world's best."

Should he give it his all once more in Switzerland, then there might be worries that the world champion could suffer from another post-race collapse, especially given that he admitted China wasn't the first time it had happened: "Normally I make it to the warm up track and then I can fall down." he said with a slightly guilty looking grin on his face.

Confessing that his rivals propensity to recover so quickly makes him feel even worse.

"It seems like I'm the only 400m runner who gets tired after his race. I saw the other guys with their flags but I don't think I could have done a lap of honour.

"I've got a lot to learn but hopefully, one day, I'll get stronger and be able to do a victory lap without feeling like I'm dying."He added.

Reflecting on the incident further van Nierkerk said that there had been one decision that had cost him dearly, taking a seat. Though as an athlete with such inexperience, it's hardly surprisingly that he found the whole process daunting.

"I could have handled it a bit better, obviously with experience I know that now." he said "I knew when I got over the finish line I should not sit down because that was when everything was going to change for me. I tried to interact my best with the South Africans that were at the stadium, I was thinking for a moment or two about doing the victory lap, but I thought no it seems a bit too far."

"Then I watched over the media I saw it was quite a big media stand waiting for me and so I just thought to myself 'Let me just take a seat and catch my breath...' that was my big mistake there! After that I just couldn't get up."

As for James, who the South African lists as one of his main inspirations as he progressed as an athlete, you may have expected the Olympic champion to still be slightly more downbeat about failing to regain his world title in Beijing, especially after having run the second fastest time of his career. However, the Granada athlete was very upbeat about the experience: "Any time you get to be on the podium, whether it's for gold or bronze it's special, to be part of such a big race in history was an honour for me."

You suspect he won't be so happy if he fails to finish first tonight.

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