The spotlight was on South Africa’s poster boy Wayde van Niekerk as he stepped onto the track for this year’s IAAF World Championships for the first time at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park yesterday in front of a big crowd in wet conditions. The 400m Olympic gold medallist got a rousing reception from the crowd. Van Niekerk is one of the favourites and most talked about athletes at the ongoing championships.
Five South African athletes took part in the morning session as the 400m world record holder (43.03 seconds) eased into the semifinals when he clocked in at 45.27 seconds to book his place in the men’s 400m event scheduled for tonight at 8.40pm South African time.
He was jogging as he crossed the finish line, bringing the cheering and applauding crowd to its feet.
Van Niekerk, who is the 400m defending champion, is widely regarded as the successor to Olympic superstar Usain Bolt, who will hang up his spikes after the championships.
But the darling of South African athletics will be pushed all the way by Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, who also brushed aside competition to storm into the semifinals with 44.55 seconds. Makwala’s compatriot Baboloki Thebe also won his heat, clocking in at 45.25 seconds.
It will be a thrilling final if the African trio can all make it to that stage. The final is the last event on Tuesday night.
Van Niekerk and Thebe will go head-to-head in the round two heats, while Makwala will be in action in the round three heats. Van Niekerk was not the only South African who made it into the semifinals. Carina Horn also impressed as she charged into the next round of the women’s 100m when she finished in a credible third, managing a time of 11.28 seconds.
Horn will take part in round two of the semifinal heats tonight at 8.10pm.
Pieter Conradie found the going tough as he secured seventh place in the 400m with 46.62 seconds, bowing out of the competition.
In shot put, Orazio Cremona and Jaco Engelbrecht were also eliminated on a day of mixed fortunes for Team SA. Cremona threw 19.81m and Engelbrecht’s throw reached 19.59m.
Horn was happy with her heats performance and promised to improve in what is expected to be a tough semifinal contest. She was quick to admit that she needs to bring her A game to book a spot in the final.
“I was a bit nervous and it was cold in these wet conditions. I’m just happy to get the qualification for the semis and hopefully I will improve. It was okay in the beginning and I tried to maintain my concentration, but the nerves got the better of me,” she said.
Horn said the wet conditions had affected her performance in the first round.
“My lane was dry until 20m and then it was wet. I will definitely get better in the semifinals,” she said.