Wayde van Niekerk‘s long-term dreams are Usain Bolt‘s world records in the 100m and 200m, but first he eyes a more attainable goal: a change in the world championships schedule.
The IAAF council will this week consider Van Niekerk’s request for a shift in the worlds schedule to more easily allow him to race both the 200m and 400m at the meet in London in August, according to the Times of London.
Van Niekerk said in January that he was petitioning the IAAF. The current worlds schedule has the 200m first round taking place about two and a half hours before the 400m final.
There is precedent. The 1996 and 2016 Olympic schedules were changed for Michael Johnson and Allyson Felix‘s double attempts, though Felix failed to make the Rio team in the 200m.
Van Niekerk’s credentials are comparable to Johnson and Felix. He shattered Johnson’s 400m world record of 43.18, clocking 43.03 at the Rio Games out of lane 8 in August. Van Niekerk, coached by a great-grandmother, worried during the one-lap final that a buggy hamstring would bite him around the 200-meter mark as it had in the first round and semifinals. It never did.
Van Niekerk said in January he plans to double regardless of if the schedule is changed, according to South Africa media.
Van Niekerk is not expected to race Bolt at worlds, since Bolt said he will sit out the 200m as he cruises toward retirement. Still, the 24-year-old from Bloemfontein will be asked Bolt questions for the rest of his career.
“A lot of people say, ‘Wayde, you need to be more of an entertainer,'” Van Niekerk said, according to the Times. “I am not that type, but I see qualities I share with Usain Bolt, and that brings a form of comfort even if it won’t sell T-shirts.”
Van Niekerk specifically said in September he dreamed of being as fast as Bolt in the 200m.
“I am a 100, 200 and 400 athlete so will dream for every record there is,” Van Niekerk said, according to the Times on Tuesday. “What sort of athlete would I be if I didn’t?”
Van Niekerk is the only man in history to break 44 seconds for the 400m, 20 seconds for the 200m and 10 seconds for the 100m. His 100m and 200m personal bests — 9.98 and 19.94 — are well off Bolt’s world records from 2009 — 9.58 and 19.19.
So while he will likely be a strong 400m favorite at worlds, he may be a 200m underdog behind the likes of Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada.
In other Rio reflections to the Times, Van Niekerk said a rush in South Africa to associate his Olympic 400m title with race via the hashtag #ColouredExcellence “broke his heart.” (“Coloured” is not necessarily an offensive term in South Africa.)
“It shocked me that as soon as the flag was off my shoulders it became about race,” Van Niekerk said, according to the report. “Didn’t they see what I had done? In South Africa it is a problem how easily people want to classify you racially. People want to put themselves in groups but then go to work with black and white people. Isn’t that racist?
“I got abused a lot. I got called traitor because I didn’t accept I was coloured. Black people told me I was living a blind life, but I know what’s going on around me. I just don’t want to support it. It would be better if we all lived as South Africans.”
The day after Van Niekerk’s gold in Rio, his agent received a phone call from Oscar Pistorius wishing to congratulate his countryman from prison, according to the Times. Last July, Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison for murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. Pistorius became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012.
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