'Jogging' Van Niekerk claims another victory on comeback trail

Wayde van Niekerk heads for victory in the 400m race at the Free State provincial championships in Bloemfontein

Olympic and two-time former world 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk was praised by coach Ans Botha Sunday after the latest victory in his comeback from a serious knee injury.

The 27-year-old South African clocked 47.42 seconds when finishing first in a Free State provincial championships 400m race in Bloemfontein this weekend.

While the time was far off the 43.03sec world record he set when winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Botha was thrilled with the performance.

"Wayde stopped running about 20 metres from the line and was just jogging. He could have run a 45 (seconds) race," the coach-cum-grandmother said.

Botha added that another stumbling block to a faster time were the chilly, overcast conditions in the central city.

"You cannot push too hard in this weather and we dare not take any risks with the (Tokyo) Olympics just five months away."

Cape Town-born Van Niekerk withdrew from the national championships in Johannesburg last year because of chilly conditions.

His latest victory was the fourth recent low-key win for him as he dreams of defending his Olympics 400m crown in Japan having missed the world championships in Doha last year.

He was hand timed at 10.20sec when winning a university 100m race on grass, then electronically clocked at 10.10sec (100m) and 20.31sec (200m) at a track meet.

Van Niekerk damaged his knee during October 2017 while playing in a celebrity touch rugby match that preceded a South Africa-New Zealand Test in Cape Town.

His recovery included time at medical facilities in the United States and Qatar, and there were several setbacks, including bruising of the knee.

The next track appearance of the two-time 400m world champion is likely to be a 200m race at a Cape Town meet on April 9.

Wayde van Niekerk heads for victory in the 400m race at the Free State provincial championships in Bloemfontein