400m is where I belong - SA's Van Niekerk

South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk made a triumphant return to international athletics on Tuesday, with a win at the Gala dei Castelli meet in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

18 September 2020 | Sports

Nampa/ANA


Wayde van Niekerk worked his way through the field in the last 100m to take victory by a clear margin in Switzerland as he crossed the line in 45.58 seconds. In the South African’s return to international athletics, Dutch runner Jochem Dobber came in second with 45.78 seconds, with Karol Zalewskie of Poland taking third in 46.03.

"The race was challenging," Van Niekerk said. "The guys went out from the beginning and I had to stick with them. The 400m is where I belong and I showed that I’m still around."

It was the first race outside of South Africa for Van Niekerk since the 2017 World Championship in London.

Little training

The 28-year-old had aimed to return to competition last month, but he tested positive for Covid-19 in early August and said he then remained isolated for 25 days.

It's unclear how much training he was able to do in that time, but he hinted it was very little: "Basically I started from scratch".

Van Niekerk made his return to SA competition in a lowkey 100m event on grass in Bloemfontein in February.

Back from injury

For the past two years, performing on an athletics track – an act which used to come as second nature – had been filled with so much doubt.

In Bloemfontein, however, those old race feelings slowly began to return as the warrior rose once more.

"There were definitely a bit of nerves, questions," he told worldathletics.org at the time.

"But I decided to put all those aside and see what my body wants to do."

Later that week, Van Niekerk rocked up to another local meeting in Bloemfontein and, on a synthetic track, clocked 20.31 for 200m and 10.10 for 100m in the space of an hour.

"It showed me I still have that speed and I definitely still have the strength that I had before the injury," he said. "That gave me a massive boost."

Before and after

The 400m world record holder's career will forever be divided into two parts - before and after October 2017.

Injury struck. The one thing that divides his career down the middle. At the time, he was the reigning Olympic and world champion, but his decision to take part in a charity touch rugby match soon brought his career to a standstill.

Van Niekerk sustained medial and lateral tears in his meniscus and tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

As his body grows strong once more, and with his first international victory under his belt - Van Niekerk may have just taken his first step towards defending his 2016 Rio Olympic 400m title.

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