Welcome to the World Champs 2023 Preview, Day 11.  Wayde Van Niekerk, WR holder, Olympic champion, and two-time World Champion at 400 meters, has returned and wants to run a sizzling lap in Budapest! 

For 34 more days, RunBlogRun will be posting a story a day on the buildup to the World Athletics Outdoor Championships, to be held in Budapest, Hungary, from August 19-August 27, 2023.

How do we continue telling you about the incredible African athletes who will compete in the 2023 World Athletics Outdoor Championships?

Today for Day 11, we will tell you the story of Wayde Van Niekerk, who has returned to his gold medal-winning form from 2017.

Wayde Van Niekerk is the first man to break 10 seconds for the 100 meters (9.94), 20 seconds (19.94)  for the 200 meters, and 44 seconds for the 400 meters (43.03). He has won gold medals in the 400 meters at the Beijing 2015 World Championships and 2017 World Championships. In 2016, Wayde won the 400-meter gold, broke the WR at 400 meters of Michael Johnson, and passed out from the effort. In 2017, the South African also took the silver in the 200 meters. That fall, in a rugby match, he injured his knee.

Wayde Van Niekerk, London 2017, photo by Mike Deering/The Shoe Addicts

It has taken him five-plus years to get back to his World Champs-winning level of 2017, probably, one of the greatest comebacks in the history of our sport.

On October 31, 2017, in a celebrity rugby match, Wayde tore his ACL. From the time of his injury until 2019, Wayde Van Niekerk was involved in a very tough rehab program, hoping to bring the athlete back to his previous world-class level.

Wayde Van Niekerk, WR holder, 400 meters, photo by Kevin Morris

Athletes know when they are fit and when they are just off that fitness. Wayde Van Niekerk did not race in 2018. In 2019, Wayde ran 47.28, almost 4.25 seconds off his WR. Wilson Kipketer, Olympic silver and bronze medalist, 3-time World Champion, and former WR holder at 800m told this writer about how delicate the balance is of pushing too hard to come back before the body can handle the high-stress levels of training.

Building back the core strength, speed, and endurance took years. In 2020, during the pandemic, Wayde Van Niekerk ran 45.58.

Little by little, Wayde Van Niekerk came closer to his 2017 fitness.

In 2021, Wayde left his long-time coach, Ans Botha. Van Niekerk moved to Clermont, Florida in 2021, training under the watchful eye of Lance Brauman, and adidas sponsored coach, and his club, Pure Athletics.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Wayde Van Niekerk, nearly 4 years after his injury, made it to the semi-finals, running 45.14. What a huge improvement, but still not enough.

Wayde Van Niekerk, London 2017, photo by Mike Deering, The Shoe addicts

Besides Wayde Van Niekerk’s physical strength, his faith and mental toughness, along with his coaching and training partners, continue to give him encouragement.

In 2022, Wayde Van Niekerk took fifth in the World Championships with a time of 44.97. In 2022, the South African ran 44.33. This writer was able to catch up with a relaxed South African at an adidas (his sponsor) event, and the gentle confidence that he exuded told this writer that he would make it all the way back to the podium.

In 2023, Wayde Van Niekerk continues to impress. In early March, at the South African Championships, Wayde ran 44.17, his fastest time in six years!

Wayde Van Niekerk will be racing in #OsloDL

There is a long time between now and Budapest, but this writer will tell you this. Get yourself a ticket for all of the sessions of the Men’s 400 meters, because Wayde Van Niekerk will be back, and he has something he wants to show the world!

This is a fascinating interview with Wayde Van Niekerk by this writer from 2021: https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/wayde-van-niekerk-the-long-road-back-from-adidas-boston-games-2021-interview-rbr-archives.html

To read all of our earlier stories in Witness the Wonder, numbers 1-9:

1. Witness the Wonder, World Outdoor Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 1; Welcome to the World Champs! https://runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-outdoor-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-1-welcome-to-the-world-champs.html

2. Witness the Wonder, World Outdoor Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 2, Meeting the Stars of Hungarian Athletics! https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-outdoor-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-2-meeting-the-stars-of-hungarian-athletics.html

3. Witness the Wonder, World Outdoor Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 3, Why you should go to Budapest! https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-outdoor-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-3.html

4. Witness the Wonder, World Outdoor Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 4, Mondo Duplantis & Nafi Thiam are Europe’s finest; how will they do in Budapest? https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-outdoor-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-3-mondo-duplantis-nafi-thiam-are-europes-finest-how-will-they-do-in-budapest.html

5. Witness the Wonder, World Championships Budapest 2023, Day 5, Just What Will Faith Kipyegon Do in Budapest? https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-championships-budapest-2023-day-5-just-what-will-faith-kipyegon-do-in-budapest.html

6. Witness the Wonder, World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 6, Mutaz Essa Barshim. Will he take a 4th straight title in Budapest? https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-mutaz-essa-barshim-will-he-take-a-4th-straight-title-in-budapest.html

7. Witness the Wonder, World Athletics Outdoor Champs Budapest 2023, Day 7, Noah Lyles wants to burn up the track in Budapest in August! https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-athletics-outdoor-champs-budapest-2023-noah-lyles-wants-to-burn-up-the-track-in-budapest-in-august.html

8. Witness the Wonder, World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 8, all About the National Athletics Center https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-8-all-about-the-national-athletics-center.html

9. Witness the Wonder, World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023, Day 9: Meet Anita Marton, Hungarian star shot putter, who has deadly last-round throws! What will she do in Budapest? https://www.runblogrun.com/2023/04/witness-the-wonder-world-athletics-championships-budapest-2023-day-9-meet-anita-marton-hungarian-star-shot-putter-who-has-deadly-last-round-throws-what-will-she-do-in-budapest.html

The World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, will be held August 19-27, 2023, and tickets are available now! Click here to learn more about ticket sales: https://tickets.wabudapest23.com/

RunBlogRun suggests a wonderful book on Hungary, The Hungarians, A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat, by Paul Lendvai, Translated by Ann Major, Princeton University Press, www.pupress.princeton.edu.