South African Athletics

Wayde van Niekerk targets speed

2017-07-02 10:00
Wayde van Niekerk (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Wayde van Niekerk’s 30.81sec world record in the little-run 300m in Ostrava a few days ago means he is now the only sprinter in history to also have run a sub-10 100m (9.94sec), sub-20 200m (19.84sec) and sub-44 400m (43.03sec).

Former South African sprints coach Marc Labuschagne – an unexcitable sort who battles to contain his enthusiasm when he talks about “arguably the best sportsman to come out of SA” – explains why he is such a good sprinter.

What makes Wayde such a good sprinter?

It’s his mechanics...he’s a very fluent athlete and there’s very little wastage when it comes to his energy. When they tire, a lot of athletes start twisting or leaning back, but because he’s slight and doesn’t carry a lot of weight he can maintain his form longer than his competitors. His training also has to be a major influence into how he does that, if his coach hadn’t prepared him well he probably wouldn’t be able to do it.

Why has he got such an incredible sprinting range?

We mustn’t forget that Wayde started as a 100m and 200m sprinter when he was at Grey College. When he converted to a long sprinter he still loved doing the short sprints and has always had that speed. It’s not a case of him going from 400m to the 100m, it’s more him going from the short sprints to the 400m. Many people have made the transition but haven’t been as successful. Wayde is so talented he’s been able to do something ridiculous like eclipsing Michael Johnson’s 400m world record.

The 300m is sometimes used as a trial to check what shape an athlete is in.  What does Wayde’s time in Ostrava tell us about his shape?

It tells me two things. The first is that if he was running one of the 200m or 400m at the world champs the world record would fall. The second is that considering he is running both he has immense speed endurance: he’s got enough speed to take it out in the 400m and not get caught, and in the 200m he’s got the speed endurance and once he comes through the bend with the others he can keep going. It gives him confidence to manage his rounds, so where most people have to run at around 85% to get through, he’ll cruise it. If he does it’s not a matter of whether he’s going to win, it’s a matter of what time he’ll do it in.

Talk is that Van Niekerk can go on to break Usain Bolt’s 200m record, given that he is a slight sprinter, and that Bolt is supposed to be a freak physically...is it possible?

The beauty of athletics is that it’s about numbers. If you want to break 1.50 for the 800m you can’t get around in 65 seconds for the first lap. If you look at what Wayde’s done – 43 seconds for the 400m, 30 seconds for the 300m and sub-20 for the 200m – if you ask what is he able to do in two months’ time at the world champs you already know he can run sub-20, so it’s a matter of by how much. I think he can break the 200m record because of his running style – he’s got a technique like Carl Lewis or Frank Fredericks, I can watch it all day – we know he’s got a tactician of note for a coach and if you look at his history this year, he’s broken the national 200m record, the 300m world record and last year he broke the 400m. So is he in shape to do it? Of course he is. But I don’t know if he can do it this year because doubling up will mean some kind of fatigue in his legs. It took Johnson four years to eclipse that 200m record. When he goes back to doing one of the 200m or 400m he’ll obliterate either record.

Is there a chance of Wayde winning the double at the world champs? If so, why?

I think he can but there’s a big if. If he can manage his rounds properly – if he draws a tough semi where the guys go sub-20 he doesn’t have a choice but to go with them. But if he can manage his recovery he has a strong shot of doing it. I think he’ll run a 19.5 and a 43.2 at the world champs, which will win the worlds. He’s going to do what he needs to do to win and not go out to break records.

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