Van Niekerk ready to be athletics' poster boy

South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk has high hopes at the athletics World Championships.
South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk has high hopes at the athletics World Championships.

LONDON • Wayde van Niekerk, the athlete identified by Usain Bolt as the next trailblazer for global athletics, was adamant on Wednesday that he was not afraid to take over the responsibility of being the face of his sport.

The day after Bolt lavished him with praise, the South African said that he was not intimidated by the expectations being heaped upon him before the athletics World Championships, which start in London today.

It is perfectly possible that the 25-year-old could upstage Bolt in the Jamaican's final championship by pulling off a 200m and 400m double that has not been achieved since American Michael Johnson in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1995.

Van Niekerk is also being tipped to threaten the 400m world record of 43.03sec that he took from Johnson at the Olympic Games last year, and warned at a news conference in London on Wednesday that he was "in the best shape" to deliver again.

"It's one thing someone saying I can be the next big thing," he said of Bolt's words of praise. "But it's another thing working towards that greatness.

"I'm not intimidated (by the responsibility), you can't be. This is track and field, this is a dream I need to fight for - and I need to fight for it as hard as I can."

Van Niekerk joked that he was expecting an invoice from Bolt for all the advice and encouragement the peerless sprinter had given him.

  • KEY RACES

  • USAIN BOLT
    Men's 100m heats

    Tomorrow, 3.20am

  • Men's 100m semi-finals
    Sunday, 2.05am

  • Men's 100m final
    Sunday, 4.45am

  • Men's 4x100m final
    Aug 13, 4.50am

  • MO FARAH
    Men's 5,000m heats

    Thursday, 3.05am

  • Men's 5,000m final
     
    Aug 13, 3.20am

  • Men's 10,000m final 
    Tomorrow, 4.20am

  • WAYDE VAN NIEKERK
    Men's 200m heats 

    Tuesday, 1.30am

  • Men's 200m final
    Friday, 4.52am

  • Men's 400m heats
    Tomorrow, 5.45pm

  • Men's 400m final
    Wednesday, 4.52am

  • ELAINE THOMPSON
    Women's 100m heats

    Tomorrow, 6.45pm

  • Women's 100m semi-finals 
    Monday, 2.10am

  • Women's 100m final 
    Monday, 4.50am

  • ALLYSON FELIX
    Women's 400m heats 

    Sunday, 6.55pm

  • Women's 400m semi-finals 
    Tuesday, 3.55am

  • Women's 400m final 
    Thursday, 4.50am

    All Singapore times.

On Tuesday, the 30-year-old Jamaican said: "Wayde van Niekerk is proving he is a world star. He has broken the 400m world record, ran the fastest 300m ever, and now he's doing the 200m also. For me, he's proving that he can step up to the plate."

It left the South African responding: "All of us have a lot of respect for Usain and have gained motivation from what's he's done for track and field.

"So it's a massive honour for me to be mentioned in the light that I am right now. I need to accept it and take the responsibility.

"It's definitely a good space to be in. Good to see him supporting me as an athlete and backing me as the athlete I am becoming. It shows that I'm moving in a positive direction as an athlete."

He may not have the sparkling personality that Bolt possesses. But as he demonstrated in an assured performance in front of the world's media in the shadow of the London Stadium, he is clearly growing more comfortable in the limelight.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'Van Niekerk ready to be athletics' poster boy'. Print Edition | Subscribe