By: Ashfak Mohamed
Cape Town – Wayde van Niekerk has done what even the great Usain Bolt hasn’t been able to do, so it’s no wonder that the big Jamaican says that the South African “does have some speed”.
Van Niekerk spent his first training session with Bolt this week at the University of the West Indies track that is named after the multiple Olympic gold medallist and suitably impressed his host.
Van Niekerk and 100m SA record holder Akani Simbine were invited by Bolt’s coach Glen Mills to train with the legendary sprinter this week ahead of Saturday’s Racers Grand Prix in Kingston.
Van Niekerk became the first athlete to run sub-10 seconds in the 100m, sub-20 in the 200m and sub-44 in the 400m when he produced a time of 9.98 at the Free State championships earlier this year.
Bolt holds the 100m and 200m world records in a blistering 9.58 and 19.19, and is the favourite to add to his golden tally in what will be his final Olympics in Rio in August.
But his 400m best is 45.28, which was run in 2007. Bolt and Van Niekerk won’t be staging a head-to-head showdown, with Simbine instead trying to keep up with Bolt in the 100m, and Van Niekerk participating in the rarely run 300m.
“He has some speed. I must say, he does have some speed,” Bolt told Tuesday’s edition of the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
“It was good. He is a cool person. It’s the first time I’m actually communicating with him like this and having dialogue and stuff, but he is a really cool person and we were just chilling and having a chat, and it’s good.”
The 23-year-old Van Niekerk captured the 400m world title in Beijing last year in a superb 43.48, the fourth fastest time in history. But even though he will run in the 300m on Saturday, two of his main rivals for gold at the Rio Olympics will also take part in the shorter distance.
American LaShawn Merritt came second to Van Niekerk at the world championships last year in 43.65, and will want to go one step further in Brazil, while Botswana’s Isaac Makwala produced the third fastest 400m time last year with 43.72.
They are all looking to peak in August, but would want to put down a marker in the 300m on Saturday. Van Niekerk’s 300m personal best is 31.63, which he set in Birmingham last year.
But for Van Niekerk, learning from and working with Bolt is a surreal experience, and it could just be the catalyst needed to chase down Michael Johnson’s 400m world record of 43.18.
“I sat so much with coach Mills in the dining rooms at the Diamond Leagues and so on and we really enjoy his company. And now to be around someone like Usain Bolt, who is an idol in the sport, and Yohan Blake and Warren Weir and all those top athletes – just being around them and learning from them, I’m just very excited to learn and pick up steps on how I can improve as an athlete,” he said.
“I am quite excited about it and, hopefully, it won’t be the last time. I like saying that to be the best, you have to be among the best and learn from the best, so who better than the world record holder and Blake and so on.
“So I’m looking forward to it and I will try and apply what they do in my own personal life and, hopefully, I can be up there with them in the near future.”
Simbine will have some serious competition in the 100m, with Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell in the start-list.