The two South Africans Wayde Van Niekerk who won the 400 metres and LJ Van Zyl who was second in the 400-hurdles certainly made their presence felt on Saturday at the Diamond League Meeting in New York. There seems to be something in the air of the “Big Apple” that enables Van Niekerk to fire on all cylinders. It was the second time in 12 months that he managed to improve the South African record in New York.
His winning time of 44.24s is 0.14s seconds faster than his previous record time of 44.38s. Kirani James from Canada, with times of 43.95s and 44.22s, was the only athlete who was able to run faster times than the South African so far this season. Van Niekerk says: ‘I just took it step by step today and tried to stay comfortable. I am happy with the results and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.’
During the past three years LJ Van Zyl battled to run to his full potential. This caused many athletics fans to start wondering whether he still has the ability to compete against the world’s best. Judging by his performance in New York yesterday, the answer to the question is an emphatic ‘yes’.
By finishing second in the 400-hurdles in a time of 48.78s, the Tuks/HPC athlete might just have, at long last, crossed his own personal “Rubicon”. It was the first time ever that Van Zyl was able to break 49s in a race in New York. But, more importantly, it was the 63rd time in his illustrious career that he managed to run a time of faster than 49 seconds.
The way he was able to come from behind to take the second place was especially impressive. Javier Culson (Puerto Rico) won in 48.48s. Van Zyl says: ‘This race is the confidence booster I so badly needed, especially because there have been times during the past three years when I was not able to run the times I knew I was capable of. After studying a video of our race, I realised that I am capable of running even faster times. Because it was so important for me to run a good race, I purposely had a somewhat cautious approach to the race. I badly wanted to break 49 seconds. What excites me is that I was able to run strongly in the home straight despite a headwind.’ Because of Van Zyl’s good performance he received an invite to the Diamond League Meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland (9 July).
He will return home for a brief stint before going back to Europe. He says: ‘My main goal now is to keep my momentum going up to the World Championships in Beijing. Apart from running in Lausanne, I will probably do another couple of races.’ Akani Simbine impressed with the way he was able to hold his own against athletes like Tyson Gay (USA), Nesta Carter (Jamaica) and Keston Bledman (Trinidad and Tobago).
Running into a headwind of 1.7m/s, Gay won the race in 10.12s. Keston was second in 10.13s, Carter third in 10.15s and Simbine fourth in 10.18s. Bledman was disqualified for a false start but he ran under protest and was later reinstated. Simbine showed true guts with the way he fought his way into the fourth place during the second half of the race.
After the race the Tuks/HPC athlete said: ‘I am very happy with the way my race played out and with the progress I am making. This was only my third international race and I can feel that my form is improving with every race. It was a pity about the wind today (Saturday) but I feel I did well with the way I fought right until the end.’
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott