CAPE TOWN • South Africa's Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk will miss next year's Commonwealth Games after suffering a serious knee injury in a celebrity touch rugby match.
The 400m Olympic and world champion has travelled to the United States for surgery after he suffered medial and lateral tears of the meniscus as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The 25-year-old will undergo six months of rehabilitation in the US, Qatar and South Africa, his management company confirmed. That will rule him out of the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast in April.
His absence will further deprive the quadrennial event of star power following the retirement of Jamaican sprint great Usain Bolt, 31.
"I was looking forward to competing in the 100m and 200m events in Gold Coast, and participating at the (South African) national championships in March, so this is unfortunate timing," van Niekerk, who was also planning to race in the 400m, was quoted on his management company's website.
"But this is sport and these things happen. I trust that the team I have around me, including the medical professionals, will make this process as smooth as possible.
"I have faith that, God willing, I'll be able to race again later next year. Full recovery is going to be crucial, so I'll be patient, but I will work as hard as I can to get back on the track as soon as possible."
Van Niekerk, who married his long-term girlfriend this past weekend, has cut short his honeymoon so that he can have an operation.
He sustained the injury playing in a touch rugby match that was a curtain-raiser to a Test between South Africa and New Zealand in Cape Town earlier this month.
He quit the game after hurting himself, but did not immediately realise the seriousness of the injury.
He was one of the major attractions at last year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro when he smashed the 400m world record in 43.03 seconds, beating the longstanding mark set by Michael Johnson in 1999.
Before August's World Championships, Bolt identified the South African as the man to replace him, predicting: "He will take over, without a doubt."
At the British capital, van Niekerk came within 0.02sec of becoming the first man since Johnson in 1995 to win the 200m-400m double at the same world championships. He settled for silver in the 200m.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE