World record holder and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk continued his comeback from an injury-enforced layoff when winning the 400m title at the Free State Championships under difficult conditions in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
In cold, wet and windy conditions, Van Niekerk floated out the blocks and coasted around the track to secure a convincing victory in the open men’s one-lap final, crossing the line in 47.42 seconds.
Having clocked 10.10 and 20.31 over the 100m and 200m distances at a small track-and-field meeting the previous week, Van Niekerk admitted he had held back the throttle in his first 400m race since returning from a long-term knee injury.
‘I’ve been out of the game for two years, so every time I get an opportunity to run, I want to use it and do a good job,’ Van Niekerk told Wesley Botton of the Citizen.
‘But today was a bit cold and wet and it was quite windy on the back straight, so I decided to stick with the pack. Next time, if the conditions are perfect, I’d like to take full advantage of it.’
Though he was more than four seconds outside the world record of 43.03 which he set at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Van Niekerk remained confident of finding his best form ahead of the Tokyo Games in July.
‘These last two weeks have given me somewhat of an indication of where I’d like to be and what I still need to work on,’ said the two-time world champion. There’s still a lot of work to be done before I can compete against the world’s best, but I believe I’m back. I feel good and I feel motivated for the future.’