FIRST ON EWN: Van Niekerk requests schedule change for Bolt showdown

The world record holder has told EWN Sport his management has sent a special request to the IAAF.

South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk celebrates winning the Men's 400m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - World 400m record holder and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk has told EWN Sport that his management has sent a special request to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to change the scheduling of the 400m and 200m races at the 2017 World Championships in London.

That's in order for him to compete in the 200m and set up a possible showdown with Usain Bolt as he chases a sprint double.

The IAAF has responded to van Niekerk's request saying that it’s the duty of the country’s federation to make the request, in this instance Athletics South Africa (ASA), but they have given an indication a change at this stage would be unlikely as tickets have already been sold to the event.

Van Niekerk’s manager Peet van Zyl has confirmed that he is still in the process of writing to ASA to make the request on van Niekerk’s behalf.

The London World Championships will be Bolt's last competition before he hangs up his spikes with him yet to confirm which events he’ll enter.

He’s the defending world champion in both the 100m and 200m.

Van Niekerk's concern is that the 200m heats take place around two hours before the final of the 400m on 8 August.

Speaking at a special event for his sponsors Adidas in Stellenbosch, he said that even if the change isn’t approved, he’ll be lining up for both.

“I’m definitely doing the 200m and 400m, I’ve set it in my heart already and I’ve decided that I’m doing the ‘two’ and ‘four’. It doesn’t matter how the programme turns out, I’m going to do that challenge and see what happens.

“I really feel like I’ve achieved so much in the 400m and I want to bring an extra aspect into my athletics journey and I feel like this year I want to try the 200m and 400m. So whether the programme changes or not, I want to give it a go.”

Van Niekerk is the first man in history to run sub-44s for the 400m, sub-20s for the 200m and sub-10s for the 100m event and carries huge expectation on his shoulders.

And despite lowering the iconic Michael Johnson’s world record at the Rio Olympic Games in the 400m, it’s the 200m race that he says he really loves and where he could focus on in the future.

The 24 year-old says that he doesn’t have a goal time in mind for the event, but he believes he can deliver something special in it.

“I really don’t like getting ahead of myself. Let’s see how the year works out, take it race by race. If the performances are growing and the confidence comes with it, then I’m sure I can run crazy times. I mean, if I had set a goal for myself a year ago for the 400m it would never have been 43.03s.”

Meanwhile, his veteran coach 75-year-old Ans Botha is more circumspect than her star athlete around doing the double if the schedule remains unchanged, with the focus firstly on defending the title that he won in Beijing.

“I don’t know if that will be a very good idea, to run a heat before a final.”

She goes on to say that she hopes that their request to alter the schedule to allow the 400m to be run over will give van Niekerk the chance to realise his dream.

“We hope that they (IAAF) will see a way to change that.

“Up until now we don’t know if the IAAF will be prepared to change the 400m like [it was] in Rio.

“At this stage our training programme includes both but the moment we have a final answer from the IAAF then automatically the preparation will change,” she said.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)