100m Olympic king keen to race new 400m champ
Three-times 100m Olympic king Usain Bolt is keen to take on South Africa’s new 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk.
Sunday night at the Rio Games was supposed to be reserved exclusively for the Jamaican superstar, as he claimed unprecedented history by becoming the first man to win three consecutive sprint titles.
But Van Niekerk, 24, muscled into Bolt’s limelight after smashing the world record in dominant fashion, less than 30 minutes before the 100m final – and the Jamaican was happy to share centrestage with him.
Bolt, 29, even interrupted a TV interview after winning his gold to go over and congratulate Van Niekerk with an embrace. The world record holder over 100m and 200m is friends with his 400m counterpart.
The pair got to know each other when Van Niekerk and 100m star Akani Simbine spent two weeks training with Bolt, his teammates and coach, Glen Mills, in Jamaica in June. “It was brilliant,” Bolt said of Van Niekerk’s record.
“I was running back and they were [asking]: ‘Who’s going to win’? “And I was ‘Van Niekerk is definitely going to win from lane eight’. “The way he runs, he’s going to be brilliant.
And when he got the world record, I was like, ‘wow’. “I told him in Jamaica . . . we were having a conversation and I was saying my coach says you’re probably the only guy right now, other than me, who can break this [400m] world record because he got speed and he got strength.
“He came out here to prove me right.” Van Niekerk also recalled the conversation in Kingston. “He told me back in Jamaica ‘you will break the world record’ and he came to me after the race and he said, ‘I told you that you can do it’.”
Asked if he would like to take on Bolt over 200m, Van Niekerk replied, with a smile: “I would love to race him one day . . . when I’m big!” His 43.03sec effort in Rio suggests he could get to a sub-43.
Bolt was asked at the post-race press conference if he would consider taking on Van Niekerk over 300m.
“I think that would be a good race. This year I was hoping I was in good shape and my coach told me they were going to put on a 300m,” Bolt said.
“I wasn’t in the best of shape but I really, really wanted to be in that race so hopefully next season, if he’s in good shape and my coach puts the meet on again, I’ll get the chance to run.
“I would really like to compete against him over 300m.” Bolt’s 30.97 is the secondfastest yet over the distance, a non-Olympic event, while Van Niekerk, Competing in that race two months ago, posted the third-best time, a 31.03.
The 30.85 world best belongs to Michael Johnson, the man whose 17-year-old 400m record Van Niekerk scuppered. After smashing the secondoldest track world record, Van Niekerk said he had expected a hamstring niggle to hit him in his historic final.
“I had quite a challenging Olympics, heat and semifinal,” he said. “Those were very mentally challenging for myself. For those heats and semifinals, as I hit the 200m, I felt a bit of a niggle in my hamstring.”
Van Niekerk suffered recurring hamstring injuries earlier in his career when still doing the 100m and 200m, but that eased off after coach Ans Botha pushed him to the 400m, which requires less explosive power.
“And when I got to the final, I hit the 200m expecting the feeling again and I felt nothing and I was like, ‘OK, don’t lose this opportunity’, and I tried to push.”
And push he did, crossing the line with a massive gap between him and Kirani James of Grenada, who was second in 43.76. American star LaShawn Merritt was third in 43.85. Van Niekerk, however, thought he was about to be overhauled.
“I was expecting one of them to catch me. As I crossed the line, I looked left and saw there ’s no one . . . I still have to pinch myself.”