World record holder Wayde van Niekerk recently made a return to competition, coasting to victory in the men’s 400m race at the Free State Athletics Championships.
After subsequently signing an extended deal with long-term sponsor T-Systems, Van Niekerk sat down to speak to the media.
Here’s what he had to say about his hiatus, his recovery, his comeback and his new goals.
Though he considered it to be little more than a training run, Van Niekerk was pleased to shake off some of the rust in Bloemfontein. Making his first appearance in an official contest in 18 months, he won easily in 47.28, and while the time was pedestrian by his own standards, he had plenty left in the tank.
“My first 200m was extremely rusty, just trying to find my feet again and my momentum, but once I got that momentum it really just gave me the confidence that I can stay in it for an entire 400m. It sparked a bit more focus and motivation, and we identified some key areas that need to be worked on.”
Van Niekerk was confident he would be competitive on the global circuit this season, but he admitted he had some more work to do in training if he hoped to regain his best form.
“Mentally I feel very strong but physically I still need to invest quite a bit. I just need to be a bit more patient, allow the physical to catch up with the mental and wait for the fireworks.”Wayde van Niekerk
Having undergone surgery in 2017, followed by a lengthy rehabilitation process, Van Niekerk admitted his knee was not yet at full strength, but he was satisfied that it would hold up.
“It’s not 100% and I don’t know when it will be, but my mindset is on doing what I can do and doing whatever is expected of me, and I’ll see where that takes me. No athlete is ever pain-free, so I have to take the knocks and work from there.”
While he confirmed his main focus was on next year’s Tokyo Olympics, Van Niekerk believed he would be ready to put up a fight in search of his third straight 400m title at the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September.
“I think things are going my way. It’s going quite well and my team is very patient with me, so I honestly believe I’ll be able to compete quite well there.”
Despite the injury leaving a dent in his career, Van Niekerk said he was not going to concern himself with what might have been. Instead, he was eager to look forward by chasing more medals and records to add to his impressive collection.
“It’s something I personally had to overcome, but my reality is what it is and I have to come back stronger. I can’t be carrying extra baggage if I want to come back as strong as I’ve envisioned. If I’m going to achieve what I really believe I can achieve, I can’t be taking regret all the way with me.”Wayde van Niekerk