World 400-metre track champion Wayde van Niekerk had a whistlestop Monday moment in the Athletes’ Village ahead of his bid to add an Olympic title to his already impressive sporting portfolio, writes Mark Etheridge.
Catch some some bullet points from the Bloemfontein blitz:
On being Team SA’s flag bearer at Friday’s opening ceremony
‘An amazing experience… the team environment alone was something special and to share that opportunity with so many guys that are friends and inspire me – it just brought joy to me knowing that we represent our country in a positive light.’
What he’s been up to since his last race in Monaco in mid-July.
‘Well I got to Gemona, Italy and could focus on myself again because in South Africa things were a bit crazy with sponsor responsibility and random media etc and I couldn’t sit down and focus on me and my career although of course that comes with the territory. When I got to Europe and Jamaica etc I was more relaxed and confident to compete.’
Expectations of the Rio Olympics.
‘I always want more but it’s no use me going on my knees every race and say “God take over and control my race”.. .I’ll be happy with whatever comes my way, I’m grateful. This is a new competition but I’ll put my best foot forward we don’t know what time will win but I hope the time I run is the winning time
How does the Olympic experience compare with world champs.
‘Well at the moment I’m keeping it quite simple. I’m a very laid back person and relaxed and I just need to relax and chill and watch movies. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary but it’s the Olympics and something major and another opportunity to go out there and achieve something in my career. So I’m taking it seriously when it comes to my event. Afterwards I’ll get to know Brazil.’
On Brazil beyond the Games.
‘It’s always been a childhood dream to see Brazil and get to know it and sightseeing and so on.. after the race I’ll think away from competition. Its something I always wanted to do. I’m a crazy Brazilian football fan ever since I was a youngster… I thought I was Ronaldinho and Ronaldo and those guys.. it’s always been something in my heart and now I have the opportunity to represent my country here and why not make the best of it.’
On the pressure and expectations of being a world champion.
‘Is there ever less pressure in sport?… I mean there’s always pressure whether you like it or not. Going into SA’s I’ll have pressure, it’s always there, always part of the game. It’s why we do what we do, it’s there whether you like it or not it . But I’m quite calm and relaxed although now and then the nerves and stresses kick in.’
Olympic gold versus World Champs gold.
‘Gold is gold – either way it’s good for my career as an individual and my path forward. I have to pitch up and do my best.’
Experiencing the competition venues in Rio.
‘I’ve really enjoyed the warm up track out at the airforce club but haven’t ben to competition venue yet.’
On having his mom here in Rio.
‘It’ll make her proud either way – even if I was a football player or a rugby player she’d be proud. I have a very supportive mother and I’m grateful for every sacrifice. Another opportiunity to make her and my family proud. They’ll be here on Thursday
On the Van Niekerk fan club.
‘I made sure I sorted eight of my family members out but now I hear there are 10 coming.. they made sure they joined the trip. It’s amazing having my family here. If I have to think about it a few years ago, even last year, we couldn’t afford it and now I have 10. How amazing that they can join this journey with me and the experience. As a youngster you always want to make family and friends proud so when I get to that finish line I’m going to them first whatever happens.’
On world rankings… do they matter right now?
‘Each and everyone knows who are the guys to watch out for.. it’s not a secret. We know who the guys are out there for the medals but there’s always a surprise package. I man, last year I was a surprise package so I won’t take anyone for granted. I’ll go out there and put my best foot forward.
What time will win the gold?
‘It’s a tough, classy field and the guys are looking sharp.. obviously a sub 44sec, it’s been shown every year that a sub 44 is what will take it. There are about four/five guys who’ve done it this far. So it’s gonna be tough but hopefully I’ll be there with them.
On not going sub 44 this season yet?
‘At first I had that as a goal, sub 44 this season but I’ll leave it in the Lord’s hand sand I’m sure that sub will come again. I’ve done it once before and it shouldn’t be a problem to do again. So I’m waiting for the perfect day, perfect health and it will happen.’