South Africa’s man of the moment on the athletics scene, Wayde van Niekerk led the SA charge at Friday and Saturday’s IAAF Diamond League in London.
Van Niekerk, the SA recordholder over 200, 300 and 400 metres, notched up another Diamond League title as he won the 400m in 44.63sec.
In his last 400m victory he left Olympic champion Kerani James in his wake, on Saturday it was African recordholder Isaac Makwala of Botswana who felt the blowtorch finish of the Bloemfonteiner.
Other notable SA finishes were LJ van Zyl (2nd in the 400m hurdles, 49.27, with Cornel Fredericks ninth in 51.22 in only his second race since injury), Zarck Visser (second in the long jump with 8.21m and Khotso Mokoena fourth with 8.16m), Anaso Jobodwana (third in the 200 metres, 20.20sec), Sunette Viljoen fourth in the javelin (63.14m), Wenda Nel fifth in the 400-hurdles (54.81s) and Elroy Gelant 11th in the 3000m (7:47.35).
In the 400m Makwala had lead going into the straight but Van Niekerk’s finish just gets more and more impressive as he put the afterburners on 60m out from the line.
David Verburg (US) was second in 45.01s, Christopher Brown (Bahamas) was third in 45.22s and Makwala fourth in 45.29s.
‘I came here wanting to win. The season has certainly been a blessing to me so far and the Diamond Race points are a bonus. This was my last Diamond League race before the World Championships and I just wanted to finish in a good time and feel confident before the Championships. It was an honour to compete here,’ Van Niekerk said.
Van Niekerk, a humble soul of few words, went on to tell Road to Rio 2016: ‘The race was really nervewracking to be honest. But I’m just glad and blessed to be able to finish it strong. I really thought I threw that one away and I’m just grateful that I could pull through tonight.
‘Now I can rest … I have to be up 3am for a flight and this week I’m going to lie low and not take calls or messages.’
Van Zyl, a Commonwealth champion back in 2006, is looking to be the Van Zyl of old under new coach Irma Reyneke. After his second spot to American Michael Tinsley (49.02) he told Road to Rio 2016.
‘I’m just off to the airport now to Germany and then back to Johannesburg for two weeks and then it’s World Championships in Beijing, China.
‘The thing I’m so happy about right now is my consistency. In this year’s Diamond League I’ve had three seconds and two fifth places. As for my race it felt nice. I finished strongly and I’m very confident with my acceleration over the last 60-70 metres.
‘So I’m (and Irma!) doing something right, definitely. I’m going into Beijing in a good frame of mind and it’s a long time since I’ve felt this good.’
As for fellow one-lap hurdler Nel, she was also happy. ‘Yes, I’m very satisfied. The race felt very much like my Paris performance. I’m very glad that my finish is nice and strong.’