South Africa’s Olympic 400m champion, Wayde van Niekerk, won on his long-awaited return when he competed in the Gala dei Castelli at the Municipal Stadium in Bellinzona, Switzerland.
Van Niekerk ran 45.58 seconds ahead of Jochem Dobber of the Netherlands and Poland’s Karol Zalewski in a low-key return after recovering from a debilitating knee injury and then Covid-19.
Also at the meeting, sprinter Akani Simbine extended his winning streak to three in Europe with another victory in the 100m.
After a lengthy wait in the blocks, Simbine eventually got going, but had to keep his legs pumping all the way to the line to claim first place in 10.02. He just managed to hold off Italian Filippo Tortu (10.07), who was followed by Sri Lanka’s Yupun Mudiyanselage (10.24).
Back at it! Forgot how to race for a moment, but it’s lovely being back on track.
— Wayde van Niekerk (@WaydeDreamer) September 16, 2020
The other South African on the track, Antonio Alkana, finished third in the 110m hurdles with a season’s best time of 13.40.
In a hard-fought long jump competition, Ruswahl Samaai was forced into second place in the final round of the competition by Finland’s Kristian Pulli, who produced an effort of 8.08m for victory.
Samaai took the lead in the second round with a leap of 8.03m, and followed it up with 8.04m in the third round, which he maintained until the very end, when Pulli triumphed with his last jump of the night.
Simbine and Alkana will now move on to Rome to take part in the Diamond League event on Thursday.
— Bronwyn Roets © (@bronwynr1) September 15, 2020
Van Niekerk, 28, romped to Olympic gold four years ago in a world- record time of 43.03 but then tore knee ligaments at a charity touch rugby game in October 2017 and made a long return.
He ran a handful of races in South Africa after facing a number of setbacks in his bid to return to the track and a planned comeback outside his home country in Trieste, Italy last month was cancelled when he tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
In April, Van Niekerk said that not only did he have a return to top form in mind, but he intends to lower his world record to under 43 seconds.
‘I am hungrier than before,’ he said. ‘I still believe I can go sub-43. I can go way better than what I have in 100m and 200m, that’s where my mind was before the injury and that’s where my mind is at for the future.’