When Wade van Niekerk stormed over the finish line to win gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics, he firmly established himself as an icon of world athletics.
Michael Johnson’s 1-year-old breaking the 400-meter world record has sparked a worldwide outcry. A star was born.
It was one of the great performances of the Rio Games, which encouraged many to believe that South Africa would be the next poster boy for athletics. The man who replaced Usain Bolt at the top of the player.
“Van Niekerk is so young, what else can he do? Can he go in 43 seconds? “It’s something I thought I could do but never did,” Johnson said after Van Niekerk’s huge show. “Usain Bolt will retire soon, it could be the next star.”
He was plastered across sports pages. Every brand wanted to work with him. Each newspaper requested an interview. Through all the exposure, he was humble, driven.
All he had to focus on was to be more successful on the track, to improve himself.
The following year the man from Cape Town returned home to secure the glory of the World Championships in London. Bolt retired that month. Van Niekerk was apparently the new heir
But when things started to improve, his career quickly derailed.
He tore his former cruciate ligament (ACL) in a charity touch rugby match in Cape Town in late 2013. A few days later he did not understand the severity of the injury. Lay in front of a long road to recovery
There have been many dark days during that rehabilitation process, however, that resilience and drive to stay on top of the stage has further fueled his ambition. Doubt is part of being an athlete. Being critical creates questions, allowing you to unlock your huge potential.
About three years after the knee injury, the 2-year-old has begun to show signs of progress. One man can’t wait for many fans to compete on the world stage.
The decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 came as a shock to many athletes, giving Van Niekerk more time to improve his fitness and speed.
As he said Olympic Channel Last year, “Tokyo wants to completely leave behind a legacy of another step for it.”
He has time by his side. He is slow to get his best back. He only returned to competitive action in February and will be patient even if he is a little away from where he wants to be.
He returned from winning the 400m at the Free State Championships in February 2019, but missed the World Championships last September due to a bone injury to his knee.
In his absence, Steven Gardinar beat Colombia’s Anthony Jose Zambrano to win the silver medal over Fred Carly of the United States.
While fixing lights and cameras at the World Championships, Van Niekerk was training quietly away from the big stage. He’s only been off the track for two years, but people can sometimes forget.
He completed the first race in 12 months at Bloemfontein on February 17, crossing the first line in the 100 meters in a hand-timed 10.20 seconds. A week later he won both the 200m and the 400m.
While his victory may not have been an official reunion, finishing a race without any complications with the knee was crucial as he sought to return to top form.
For the past two years, that simple act of sprinting has been filled with so much skepticism. Winning these races was proof that his body could do it again.
Providing positive energy to his family and close friends, Van Niekerk has transformed from comeback mode to combat consciousness. Ready for battle when the season starts again.
Normally, he has his coach Ans Botha by his side, but according to South Africa’s strict lockdown rules, both of them are keeping themselves away for the time being.
Botha is 78 years old and has played a huge role in Van Niekerk’s progress over the years.
Nevertheless, he continues to train at his Cape Town base, using an advanced treadmill to challenge him in a variety of ways.
But despite his thirst for Olympic success, some scholars believe that it will be difficult for Van Niekerk to hold his crown in Tokyo, especially after enduring the blows of that severity.
Injury can steal a career – that’s the ultimate truth – however, Van Niekerk chooses a challenge. And the Olympic suspension gives him more time to get back to his best until 2021.
Now completely pain free, a long time at home has restored this appetite and drive. Progress is strong and has a high chance of scaling those heights from four years ago. Success is drawn to him.
He has previously said that he does not want to go where he wants to go – before anyone can run a sub-33 second 400 meters. This is where he wants to stay. There is no better place to do this than Tokyo.
It would be an incredible comeback if South Africa could go back to their best and build a successful defense of their Olympic title.
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