Athletics: Van Niekerk focuses on 400m after track first

South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk at a press conference of the IAAF Diamonds League Golden Gala athletics meeting in Rome, Italy, June 1.
South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk at a press conference of the IAAF Diamonds League Golden Gala athletics meeting in Rome, Italy, June 1.PHOTO: EPA

ROME (AFP) - Wayde Van Niekerk made sprint history by becoming the first athlete to dip under benchmark times in the 100, 200 and 400m, but the South African insists his focus this season is wholly on the one-lap race.

Having already clocked 19.94 seconds and 43.48sec in the 200 and 400m, Van Niekerk timed 9.98sec in the 100m in March to set an athletics first.

"That's crazy, great things could be ahead," American track great and 400m world record holder Michael Johnson said after Van Niekerk's feat.

Reputed athletics statistician Jon Mulkeen, using IAAF scoring tables, ranked Van Niekerk as fifth after a survey of top sprinters over the three distances.

Usain Bolt sits in first position, his world records in the 100 and 200m making up for a modest personal best of 45.28sec in the 400m. Johnson is ranked second, ahead of American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Yohan Blake, followed by Van Niekerk.

The Cape Town-born track star is relatively little-known on a global level despite scorching to world gold in the 400m in Beijing last year. But that promises to change, with news that the 23-year-old has inked in a training programme later this month with Usain Bolt's coach Glen Mills in Jamaica ahead of the Rio Olympics.

"We have some good relationship with coach Mills, I've got to know him on the circuit over the last few months and years," Van Niekerk said. "I'm really excited to learn and pick up some good tips for myself as an athlete and hopefully it'll benefit me in the future."

Van Niekerk added: "I've tried to improve my 100m times, and from there it's all about building some good momentum. I'm doing some agility work and now practising the 400m.

"It's time to get kicked off in the European season and soak it up and build up some good momentum until we get to the Olympics." But the South African was in no doubt about where his goal lay this season.

"I'm really a big lover of the 100 and 200m, but I fell in love with the 400m and that's why I do what I do today," he said. "I've been going through a four-year process with the 400m. I've been struggling with a lot of injuries with the 100 and 200, so they've been neglected a bit more than the 400m.

"At this very moment, I'm totally focused on the 400m and doing a bit of 200m during the European season. "Maybe in the future I'll start considering the 100 and 200m but for now I'm completely focused on the 400m."