South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Reigning 400m Olympic champion and world record holder Wayde van Niekerk advanced to the Tokyo Olympics semi-finals of the men’s 400m heats on Sunday.
Running in lane 7, Van Niekerk took it easy in the fourth heat with a top-three finish automatically guaranteeing athletes a place in Monday’s semi-finals (From 13:05 SA time).
Van Niekerk, who claimed a record-breaking gold in Rio 2016 in 43:03 seconds, eased up at the finish line to end third in a time of 45.25.
“I went out quite strong, I felt comfortable. I switched off a bit too soon, but I got the job done,” Van Niekerk told reporters on Sunday.
“I definitely came with a bit of nerves, but I think I handled it well. I took it by my stride.”
Despite it being 34 degrees Celsius at 11:09 in Japan, Van Niekerk wasn’t too disturbed by the heat as he progressed to the semi-finals 12th-fastest.
“It’s conditions we all have to face, it’s not like the heat is only in my lane, we face the same challenges,” said Van Niekerk.
“For me, it’s a positive. I love heat as it relaxes my body so I take it as it comes.”
The 29-year-old has been plagued with niggles since the horrid knee injury he picked up in 2017, which has seen him struggle to get back to his best.
“My body feels good, I’m positive. I feel quite happy and comfortable with how things are looking at the moment,” said Van Niekerk.
“The goal was top two, but I obviously came a bit short as my goal. I’m there in the semi-finals. There’s a job that needs to be done tomorrow.”
American Michael Cherry finished as the fastest in the heats with a time of 44.82.
Van Niekerk insists that he has enough power to make it through to the finals and eventually stand once again on the podium.
“I didn’t push too hard this time around and maybe that means I’ve got a little more extra left than probably the rest of the guys, but we take it day by day.”
Meanwhile, South African duo Zakithi Nene (45.74) and Thapelo Phora (45.83) both finished fifth in their heat and failed to qualify for the semi-finals.
*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympic Games for Sport24