US-bound Van Niekerk wins 200m title, misses Olympic mark

Pretoria (AFP) –


World 400-metre record-holder and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk won the South African 200m title in Pretoria Saturday, but missed out on the Tokyo Games qualifying time.

The 28-year-old clocked 20.38 seconds on a chilly night at the University of Pretoria -- 0.14 sec outside the minimum time needed to compete in Japan.

Van Niekerk has yet to indicate whether he will attempt to qualify for the 200 and 400m events at the Tokyo Olympics, or concentrate on the longer distance.

It was his final race in South Africa before heading to the United States, where he will work with new coach Lance Brauman in Florida.

He was scheduled to leave South Africa this week, but delays in obtaining travel documents allowed him to compete at the national championships, held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Van Niekerk is switching to Brauman because long-time coach Ans Botha is 79 years old and no longer has the physical mobility to travel with the Olympic champion.

"Mentally, I was not there. I had intense sessions on Monday and Tuesday, building toward the future, so the body was quite beaten up," he said after his 200m triumph.

"I was just trying to come out of the championships healthy. That is what I did and it was a good feeling to win again.

"My mentality is way beyond that (winning the national 200m final). My goal is to run against the best in the world.

"A title is a good step forward knowing where I have come from, but mentally my mind is set at being the best in the world.

"Being the best in South Africa is something I am grateful for, but it is not something where my heart and mind is at."

A year after winning 400m gold and breaking the 17-year record of Michael Johnson with a time a 43.03 sec at the 2016 Rio Games, Van Niekerk injured his knee playing celebrity touch rugby.

Amid a slow recovery that included medical treatment in the United States and Qatar, he tested positive for Covid-19.

The goals of the athlete born in the western Cape town of Kraaifontein include more Olympic gold medals and breaking the 43-sec barrier in the 400m.