Wayde van Niekerk gold (Gallo Images)
Rio de Janeiro - Wayde
van Niekerk said he's given clean athletes a boost with his blistering
400m world record - and admitted that even he didn't believe such a
time was possible without drugs.
The South African produced a run for the ages at the Rio Olympics,
when he tore round the outside lane to smash Michael Johnson's hallowed,
Athletics' battered reputation means every record attracts questions
about drugs, but Van Niekerk said his performances showed could what be
"I think it could be a good testimony to other athletes who want to play the game clean," he said.
"I thought you had to use something to run a sub-44, and look where I
am today. And I've done it clean and I've done it simply by pure hard
work and dedication.
"If I can be a testimony, I think anyone else can do it, if I could
be an example for that," he said in an interview at Copacabana beach.
Track and field had a torrid build-up to the Rio Games, with Russia's
team suspended en masse after revelations of a state-backed doping
Van Niekerk's record has been on the cards after this year he became
the first athlete to go sub-10 in the 100m, sub-20 in the 200m
and sub-44 in the 400m.
He said he was inspired by a motivational talk from Usain Bolt whilst
training this year in Jamaica, when the sprint king urged him to grasp
"That's why I go out there as hard as I can because I don't want to
let go of opportunities now I'm in the shape that I am in," he said.
"I'm really taking that advice that he gave me and using every single chance I get on the track to better myself."
However, the 24-year-old had no sense that he was about to beat
Johnson's 1999 record of 43.18, despite a bold prediction from Bolt
that he was about to make history.
"I really just went out there to
try and repeat what I did last year," said Van Niekerk, who became
world champion over 400m last year in Beijing.
"Obviously I would have loved to improve myself but world-record
improve myself? I definitely didn't think I could do it and it's really
been a blessing."
He added: "(Bolt) came to me after the race and told me, 'I told you you could do it!' It's really a special moment.
"A few months prior to the Olympics we spoke about it and he told me I
can (break the record). Obviously it did help me believe in myself...
yeah, I'm grateful for the belief that he had in me."
Van Niekerk's unusual training set-up sees him coached by Tannie Ans, a
74-year-old great-grandmother who mainly looks after university-level
Ans's training sessions are unpredictable and can include football
kick-abouts. "Not even I can explain what she's doing," he said.
"She loves being involved in a lot of different areas but I think at
the age she's at now I'd love to see her take it easy and just focus on
herself," he said.
"But I think that's what keeps her going and that's what makes her
smile every day and I believe with her always being busy that's how she
comes up with the new ideas every day."
Next up is a potential 300m showdown with Bolt, a tantalising and left-field possibility raised by the Jamaican.
"I wouldn't go out there and say 'Usain Bolt, I want to challenge
you' but obviously being able to race against a great like Usain Bolt
would give me a lot of motivation," Van Niekerk said.
"I always try to put out my A-game, especially if it was against
someone as good as him. But I'd be honoured even to take a victory walk
with around the track."