JOHANNESBURG, August 11 – Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk’s dream of a double 200/400m triumph came within 0.02sec of being realised at the IAAF World Championships in London on Thursday night.
Having won the 400m final two nights previously, Van Niekerk had snuck into the final as the fastest semifinal loser on Wednesday night.
But on Thursday it was Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, a man who had focused entirely on the 200m at these championships, who snuck past Van Niekerk on the line to win in 20.09sec.
Van Niekerk, who had looked understandably tired in Wednesday’s semifinal, started in lane three and ran a great first half of the race and his 400m strength looked like keeping him in front down the straight.
But Guliyev finished strongest and just overhauled the South African on the line.
Van Niekerk won silver for South Africa by the tightest of margins, just 0.001sec separating him and bronze medallist Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago as they both ran times of 20.11. The slimmest of gaps separated silver from bronze.
The Bloemfontein blitz had been looking to emulate the great Michael Johnson’s 200/400m double from the 1985 World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Still, it’s the first time a South African has won two individual medals at the same Championships… you just can’t keep this man out of the history books.
The medal was South Africa’s fifth of the championships and and kept them in third place on the medals table behind the United States (19) and Kenya (seven).
And still to come will be reigning Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who has already picked up bronze for the rainbow nation in the 1 500m and looks a banker for a medal, whatever colour that may be in these championships that have been marked by many an upset.
In the women’s 200m semifinals, Rio Olympian Justine Palframan was unable to progress through to the final.
She went off in the first of three semifinals. Lining up in lane two she ran a nice bend but was unable to make any impact down the straight as Netherlands’ Dafne Skippers won in 22.50.
Palframan ended in seventh spot with a time of 23.21 after running a season’s best 22.84 in Belgium last month.
In the men’s javelin big Rocco van Rooyen failed to throw his way out of the qualifying round.
Going into the championships with a season’s best 84.09m he needed an 83m throw to automatically book his place in the final.
But he fell well short of that mark after opening with a 73.93m effort. He improved that marginally with a 74.02 heave but his third and final throw was his worst of the evening, a 70.27m throw.
Earlier Olympic champion Semenya sailed into the semifinals of the women’s 800m.
Only needing to place in the first three in her heat, Semenya did just enough to win in 2min 01.33sec.
The bell for the last lap ran in 60.48sec with Semenya comfortably placed in third.
Coming down the main straight the 1 500m bronze medallist earlier this week switched effortlessly from the inside lane to get some space and come home in relaxed style.
Her compatriot in the two-lapper, young Gena Lofstrand was off in the last of six heats.
After an impressive season on the European circuit the Durbanite went off hard from the gun, showing little sign of any nerves in this, the biggest stage she’s competed on.
She led the field through the bell in a hasty 58.72 and looked in fine form before perhaps her inexperience saw her being boxed in on the final bend and spat out of the back of the field with no space to accelerate.
She ended in seventh place with a time of 2.01.73 as Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba won in 1:59.96, the fastest time of the heats.
Lofstrand though was rewarded for her brave front-running efforts as her time was quick enough to power her through to Friday night’s semifinals.
The 21-year-old’s time was 0.23sec off her personal best run in Switzerland a month agoon Friday.
Olympic and now two-time world 400m champion, Wayde van Niekerk, broke down in a live interview with the BBC after taking silver in the men’s 200 metre final, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium in London on Thursday evening, citing a lack of respect for his achievements at these world championships.
Van Niekerk was attempting to emulate Michael Johnson’s rare feat of double gold in the men’s 400m and 200m events at the same world championships, which the track legend achieved in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1995. The American repeated the double a year later in his home Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
As it happened, Ramil Guliyev, born in Azerbaijan but now competing for Turkey, surprised the pre-race favourites, including Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards, Van Niekerk and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, clearly the crowd’s darling. Guliyev took gold in 20.09 seconds, Van Niekerk silver in 20.106 and Richards bronze in 20.107 (Van Niekerk was one thousandth of a second faster).
Interviewer Jones acknowledged Van Niekerk’s achievement in winning silver, but the athlete broke down in tears before commenting, turning his back on the camera. The camera stayed on SA’s 400m world record holder, with the interview live on the British national broadcaster, while Jones consoled him.
After he composed himself, Van Niekerk said: “I really feel I worked hard for tonight. I gave it my all. I think I’ve proven over and over again I deserve what I’ve achieved.
“It was a tough week for myself. Also after (the) 400 metres, there was quite a lot of people that felt I didn’t deserve it. I’m glad that I could come out today again and put on a good fight. I really believe that this is just the beginning of so much more that I can achieve.
Asked about his emotions, Van Niekerk replied: “I work just as hard as every other competitor I compete against. I show everyone else respect. I think I didn’t get the respect that I deserved after the 400metres. I’m glad that I came through today and put on a good show.
“Like I said, it’s only the beginning. I’m going to put in so much more hard work and show my dominance.”
Jones said that it was strange that anyone could remotely question Van Niekerk as Olympic champion and world record holder or (it was strange) that they wouldn’t view him as a worthy winner. He asked where Van Niekerk got the sense (of ill feeling towards him) from.
Van Niekerk said: “Well it was no secret that (in) my finals a lot of people felt that the results should have been the other way. But I’ve proven everyone wrong today. And like I said, I’m going to prove it over and over again that I deserve where I am.
“I deserve what I’ve achieved. I thank God so much again for such a great competition.”
Jones then asked Van Niekerk whether or not he had heard the speculation on an “IAAF conspiracy” surrounding the international body preventing Makwala from entering the stadium on Tuesday to take part in the 400m final, for which the Botswanan had qualified. It turned out that the athlete had been quarantined for 48 hours as a precaution, after falling ill with a stomach bug.
The multiple champion said: “Like I said, I feel it’s very unfair. Especially like you said, it’s not an overnight success that I’ve achieved, I’ve been coming through the rankings the last few years, as any competitor (does). So I really feel I’ve worked for where I am today.
“But it’s fine. I guess everyone’s going to be angry and people are going to be upset (by) the way things work out, but this is a competition. We’re all challengers and we all came out here for one thing and that’s medals.”
Gunning for an historic gold double, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk had to settle for silver in the men’s 200m at the IAAF World Championships in London on Thursday.
The 25-year-old 400m world record holder held the lead with 80 metres to go, but Ramit Guliyev of Turkey produced a fantastic surge to move past Van Niekerk by a narrow margin to win in 20.09 seconds. Van Niekerk took second in 20.11, less than a hundredth of a second ahead of Jereem Richards in third of Trinidad and Tobago.
Van Niekerk came into the race hoping to become the first athlete to complete a world 200m/400m gold double since American Michael Johnson in Gothenburg in 1995.
The phenomenal performance of Van Niekerk created a unique piece of history, as he became the first South African to earn two individual medals at the same World Championships.
In the women’s 800m heats, both Caster Semenya and Gena Lofstrand advanced.
Semenya looked comfortable in her heat, content to let the other contenders set the pace. It was only in the final straight that the Olympic gold medallist moved up from the middle of the pack to claim victory in 2 minutes 1.33 seconds. Throughout the race the 26-year-old looked comfortable as her expected surge to the front revealed, showing no signs of fatigue after claiming bronze in the women’s 1500m on Monday.
Lofstrand, meanwhile, paid for setting the pace on the first lap of her heat as she faded in the final 100 metres. Fortunately for the 21-year-old Lofstrand, the quick pace she had set meant that even though she finished seventh in 2:01.73 she made it through to the semi-finals on Friday as a fastest loser.
In the women’s 200m, Justine Palframan was eliminated in the semi-final stage with only the top-two progressing. The 23-year-old finished seventh in a time of 23.21 in her heat, but even her personal best of 22.84 would have only been good enough for third place behind race favourite Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands who won in 22.49.
In the men’s javelin, Rocco van Rooyen finished second last in a field of 31, managing a best throw of 74.02 metres. Van Rooyen was a full 10 metres outside a qualifying distance needed to progress to the next round.