WAYDE VAN NIEKERK’S ROAD BACK TO DOMINANCE

Photo by DAVID RAMOS/GETTY IMAGES

It is well known all over South Africa and all over the world that SA’s greatest athlete suffered a devastating injury whilst participating in a curtain raiser celebrity match. It initially seemed like harmless fun and the crowds enjoyed watching their National Treasure glancing around the field with oval ball in hand, but moments later a look of anguish was seen on Van Niekerk’s face before he was stretchered off the field whilst still smiling and acknowledging the supporters who came early to witness him in action.

 

This article will give some insight into some of the thoughts and challenges that Van Niekerk has faced since that moment and how he keeps him mind, body and spirit in check on his return journey back to DOMINANCE. Yes that’s the slogan that Van Niekerk is using to fuel him in 2018: DOMINANCE!

 

Before we look into the setback, let’s have a look at what Van Niekerk has achieved in the 2016-2017 season. Most are familiar with the phrase ‘fastest man alive’ and ‘Successor to Usain Bolt’ so the super special talent which is Wayde van Niekerk cannot be ignored. The 400m world star has done what no other athlete has achieved. In the 400m he boasts a ridiculous world record time of 43.03 seconds, which he posted at the 2016 Olympic Games, in the 200m he set a blistering South African record of 19.84 in 2017, and in the 100m a personal best of 9.94 seconds, also in 2017. This makes Van Niekerk the most complete sprinter the world has ever seen and he is still in the infancy of his professional career which has been escalating since changing to the 400m in 2013. The Bloemfontein-based athlete has already achieved what legends dream of, and he is only 25! Van Niekerk also ran a world best in the 300m, removing the only world record remaining under the name of sprinting legend, Michael Johnson, which he ran on South African soil at Pilditch Stadium. Van Niekerk stopped the clock on 30.81 seconds! To add to this, he has remained undefeated in the 400m since 2015; if that is not dominance, I don’t know what is. He took home the world title in the 400m in London all whilst juggling rounds in the 200m as well. Then Van Niekerk lined-up in the 200m and narrowly finished in second after a gruesome week of competing. Hats must be taken-off for showing such grace and character in attempting what he and his team soon realized was a tough feat, but one that is clearly in his reach after an encouraging first attempt.

 

Has the world been hard on Van Niekerk for not winning double-gold in the 400m and 200m? Is he measured by a standard that is not fair? Do we expect too much from our heroes? Well, one thing we know is that a gold and silver at world championships, the fastest ever time in the 300m, and dominance in the 400m for an entire season, still falls short of being IAAF World athlete of the year. He has had a strenuous season and his fearless ‘leave it all on the track’ mentality means that he puts his body on the line, something that has given South Africans a reason to celebrate and have joy and smiles on their faces.

Fast forward to the day Van Niekerk injured his knee in a touch rugby match, an injury which would later be discovered to be a serious torn ACL and meniscus which would have him ruled-out for approximately 6 months. This is where we will pick up the interview with Van Niekerk.

 

What was the first thought that went through your mind when you felt the pain in your knee?

“After the injury I thought I was good and stayed positive and believed it wasn’t anything major. With just a few weeks away from my wedding, I just prayed for a miracle.”

Did you immediately know the seriousness of the injury?

“The next day the MRI was explained to me and I had to start thinking and planning towards surgery, and at the back of my mind knowing I’d be needing to shift my focus to the wedding.”

What has been the toughest challenge?

“I think the entire few weeks post-surgery was tough for me, but I was blessed with my good friend and strength and condition coach, Obakeng Molopyane; he is helping me step by step, someone I’m truly thankful for, plus the Steadman clinic in Calarado’s staff made the process very easy for me. So including my team and step-father, this process went very smoothly. I continued my rehab in Qatar at Aspatar medical centre the next week. Yet again received a world class treatment. So in terms of challenging processes it was all made easier by a great team built around me.

What is keeping you positive throughout this challenge?

What keeps me positive, is my everyday bible study and understanding my current situation, using it to build myself mentally and physically. Having the opportunity to step back and point out the needs that I should focus on, to get back to being the best.

How important is it to have positive people around you during this time?

“I believe it’s extremely key and very important to have such people around you. People who consider your needs and try understand the process and space you are currently in to make your healing as progressive as possible, and just as important is that they are important to you which actually brings joy to you. No gold medal, award, money or car can bring you joy if your spirit, mind and attitude is not in a good place. So it’s best to stop trying to please or impress others and keep to what brings joy to you.”

What message would you give to young athletes or South Africans that might be going through any big setback in their lives?

“There’s no advice one can really give in terms of preventing it, we are all human and would love to interact and part take in all different activities that we enjoy. But truth is, it is best to focus on what is going well for you. Not crying but trying, you now protect that and work on mastering that. At the end of the day we all have unique experiences and see life in our own unique ways, so focus on mastering your views and dreams.”

The entire SA is rooting for you to get well, what message do you have for all your supporters?

“I’m always grateful for everyone who supports me, I’ll be back stronger and faster no doubt.”

 

We can only anticipate the return of Van Niekerk on the track doing what he has been called to do. Don’t forget to continue to support our champion and send messages of encouragement because it is a long road back, but, a road that will unleash a new hunger and desire for a new level of dominance.

 

Thanks to Wayde van Niekerk for being will to share his insight and experience with us.

 

Written by Themba Madima