Wayde van Niekerk wins 400m; top rival held out of race

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Wayde van Niekerk is halfway to a historic double at the world championships. His biggest rival this season wasn’t even allowed in the stadium for Tuesday’s 400m final.

Van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 400m world record in Rio, repeated as world champion in 43.98 seconds. The Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner took silver in 44.41, followed by Qatar’s Abdalelah Haroun in 44.48.

Van Niekerk was much faster at the Olympics (43.03) and 2015 Worlds (43.48), but he didn’t need to be that swift in London. He eased off crossing the finish line with that comfortable lead yet still lay on the track in exhaustion afterward.

Later, Van Niekerk said “freezing” conditions slowed him. Temperatures were in the low 60s on Tuesday.

“I struggled to get myself warmed up and ready,” he said, according to the IAAF. “I was doubting my momentum. In the last 150 [meters] I tried putting in an extra gear, but I couldn’t catch my stride until my last few meters.”

Meanwhile, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was held out of the final due to what the IAAF said was “an infectious disease” but insisted that he was not sick and had never seen a doctor. Makwala ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 200m and No. 3 in the 400m (43.84), the events Van Niekerk was favored to sweep this week.

Van Niekerk said it was “heartbreaking” to learn of Makwala’s absence. Makwala also did not start the 200m on Monday.

“I saw him just before the 200m heats, and the only thing I could think of was putting my arms round him and telling him to get well soon,” Van Niekerk said.

Makwala was the latest 400m star to bow out of the event at worlds. The 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James did not enter worlds due to illness. The 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt failed to qualify for Tuesday’s final, citing plantar fasciitis.

Everybody other than Van Niekerk was racing his first individual championship final on Tuesday, including the top American, Fred Kerley, who was seventh. Full results are here.

Now, Van Niekerk sets his sights on sweeping the 400m and 200m. Only Johnson has accomplished this feat at a worlds.

Van Niekerk is the heavy favorite in the 200m (final Thursday) with the top challengers in that event also absent. Usain Bolt chose not to race the 200m this year, and Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse pulled out ahead of worlds with a strained hamstring.

In other events Tuesday, Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks became the first American man in 10 years to win an Olympic or world pole vault title. The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve cleared 5.95 meters for gold ahead of Pole Piotr Lisek and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France.

“I need to make up some training and see my soldiers when I go back home,” Kendricks said. “I got a call from the secretary of the Army wishing me good luck just yesterday, so I had to call him back, tell him how I did.”

Kenyan Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto overtook U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager on the final lap of the 3000m steeplechase and won in 8:14.12. Jager held on for bronze in 8:15.53, behind Moroccan Soufiane Elbakkali.

Jager became the first U.S. medalist in a world steeplechase, while Kenya won its ninth straight Olympic or world title in the event. That’s the longest-running dynasty in the sport.

“I would have been really pissed if I was not on the podium, but I guess I’m just disappointed because I had pretty high hopes of coming in here and winning gold,” Jager said, citing Kipruto’s recent ankle injury that kept the Kenyan to one track training session in the month preceding worlds.

France’s Pierre Ambroise-Bosse was the surprise 800m champion in 1:44.67 in the absence of world-record holder David Rudisha and every Rio medalist. Poland’s Adam Kszczot, .28 behind, won silver, as he did in 2015. Kenyan Kipyegon Bett took bronze.

Tori Bowie did not show up for the 200m heats, two days after she won her first world 100m title. Bowie said after the USATF Outdoor Championships in June that she did not want to run multiple individual races at worlds. Last week, she said her 200m status would be determined after the 100m.

Elaine Thompson, who swept the Olympic 100m and 200m, chose not to race the 200m at worlds. Thompson was shockingly fifth in the 100m on Sunday.

With those two out, Thursday’s semifinals are headlined by Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, defending world champion Dafne Schippers and U.S. champion Deajah Stevens. The final is Friday.

Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad led three Americans into Thursday’s 400m hurdles final. A fourth American, 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little, did not advance out of the semifinals.

In the javelin, Barbora Spotakova won her second world title, a decade after her first crown. Spotakova, a 36-year-old mother with 2008 and 2012 Olympic golds, threw 66.76 meters to edge China’s Li Lingwei (66.25) and Lyu Huihui (65.26).

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