Week 199 (5 - 11 August 2017)
As one of the brightest stars in sprinting, Wayde van Niekerk is considered the natural successor to Usain Bolt as the poster boy for a new generation of athletics. But beyond their shared 200m event, there are few similarities between the two.
This week, Bolt called time on a glittering career, which included 14 IAAF World Championships medals and 8 Olympic golds. Unlike the Jamaican showman, however, Van Niekerk is known to shy away from the limelight and makes a point of doing his talking on the track.
Last year, during the Rio 2016 400m final, the South African set a new world record to announce himself on the world stage but chose to celebrate with close family and friends.
At this week’s World Championships, he was favourite to emulate US sprinter Michael Johnson’s 1995 feat of completing the 200m/400m double. On Tuesday night, Van Niekerk won 400m gold in 43.98 seconds, successfully defending his title from two years ago. But in the 200m on Thursday he could only manage second place as Ramil Guliyev surprised the field to take gold for Turkey.
In an uncharacteristically emotional interview, Van Niekerk referenced a tough week in which his main rival in both distances, the Botswanian sprinter Isaac Makwala, was barred from competing in the 400m because of a suspected norovirus outbreak at his hotel.
“It’s been a tough week for myself. After the 400m there was quite a lot of people who felt I didn’t deserve it,” Van Niekerk told the BBC. “I worked hard for tonight and I gave it my all. I feel like I deserved what I achieved.
“I really believe that this is just the beginning. I am going to put in so much more hard work and show my dominance.”
Of the comparisons with Bolt and Johnson, Van Niekerk says that although he admires both athletes, he is his own person.
"I have the utmost respect for Usain and he is the one I have been watching over the last few years. I thank him for what he has done for the sport and this is the perfect time for us to honour him.
“I will never try and fill Usain's shoes, or Michael's. I've shown enough dominance, hard work and performances to start building my own image and brand.”
Van Niekerk was voted “Best Male at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games” by the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) last year. If there is one comparison to be drawn between Van Niekerk and Bolt besides their success, it is their competitive spirit and will to win.