"Excited and optimistic" van Niekerk promises "better Wayde" to come

South African 400m Olympic champ and world record holder is confident he will make the required time to compete in the Japanese capital.

By ZK Goh

Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk says there's more to come from him despite not yet having posted a qualifying time in the 400m for this year's rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

"I'm going to be a better Wayde than the one you have ever seen before," he told IOL.co.za recently.

The South African athlete, whose last appearance at the Boston Boost Games at the end of May saw him pull up before the end of a 200m race before jogging across the line, said in the interview that he was "in a very good space right now".

"I'm very excited and optimistic; I'm looking forward to the year."

Van Niekerk, who now trains in Florida having left long-time coach Ans Botha earlier this year, reassured supporters that the scare was nothing major.

"It's not something that we should all be worried about," he said. "I just tightened up a bit. The new training and environment took a toll on me.

"That was just my body telling me that it's been taking on a bit more and needs a slight reset."

Yet to qualify

While the 28-year-old has yet to clock the Olympic qualification standard over either 200m or his favoured 400m, van Niekerk said he was relaxed about making it to the Games.

"Qualifying is no worry for myself. I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do," he said.

"That is really not something that is a worry to me right now."

Although he ran in the 200m in Boston, the defending 400m Olympic champion said the longer distance remained his main target.

"This year I'm strengthening myself in the 400 metres.

"I'm focusing on that for the Olympic Games. (…) I'm physically challenging myself, pushing through limits and barriers with the new team and coach."

Getting race-ready

The South African added that he was adjusting well to his new surroundings, training alongside the likes of Noah Lyles and Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

"The new team and staff are very patient and very helpful," he said.

"Even the track work right now is totally different to what I used to do, because of the intensity and the level at which I'm pushing my body.

"This time is about getting momentum again and race-ready again.

"I'm sure the next time you see me on the track, it will definitely be a (qualifying time)."