Wayde van Niekerk sets 400m qualifying time for Tokyo 2020

South African clocks 44.56 seconds at Madrid Meeting Continental Tour Silver event in Spanish capital, 0.34 seconds inside the qualifying standard.

By ZK Goh

Olympic athletics champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk has clocked the 400m Olympic qualifying standard at the Madrid Meeting World Athletics Continental Tour Silver in Spain, finishing second in 44.56 seconds.

Starting in lane 5, the South African started well and quickly moved into a strong position at the front of the race in the opening 200m.

Although he was eventually beaten at the line by Colombia's Anthony José Zambrano (44.51), both men easily crossed the line inside the Olympic qualification time of 44.90 seconds.

Up till this race, van Niekerk was yet to meet the qualifying mark for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 in either the 200m (20.24s) or 400m.

Speaking earlier this month, the South African said that he was not concerned that he had yet to qualify.

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

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

He lived up to that promise.

Split from South African coach

Van Niekerk announced his split from long-term coach Ans Botha earlier this year to link up with new coach Lance Brauman in Florida.

Among the other athletes in Brauman's camp are American 200m world champion Noah Lyles and Bahamian 400m Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

"As much as I have enjoyed my experience with Tannie Ans and her group‚ I am hoping to break my world record and to do that I need to ensure I am training alongside the world’s best sprinters," he explained then.

"I feel a temporary move to the US will be in my best interests for the immediate future. I look forward to working with my new coach and training partners‚ and I hope to continue carrying the SA flag with pride at international level."

His last race before Madrid was a 200m at the Boston Boost Games in which he pulled up before the finish line but later reassured supporters that he had not hurt himself.

Rojas looking on form

Also in Madrid, Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas recorded her second-best triple jump mark ever as her quest to break the world record continues.

The Olympic silver medallist and double world champion jumped 15.34 metres (+2.2 m/s) on her sixth and final jump, behind her season's (and personal) best of 15.43m.

Innesa Kravets' world record of 15.50m, set in Gothenburg, Sweden, has stood since 1995.