Rusty Wayde wins in Bellinzona

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Wayde van Niekerk PHOTO: HANNES NAUDE

The 400m world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk, marked his long-awaited return to international athletics on Tuesday night with a win during the Gala Dei Castelli meet in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

It was the first time in three years and seven months, or 1132 days, that Van Niekerk took to the track in an international event after sustaining a serious ACL injury during a celebrity touch-rugby match in Cape Town in 2017.

The 2016 Olympic champion attempted several comebacks over for the past few years, but he never made it further than running at local events such as the Free State Championships in Bloemfontein.

His first attempt at a return to international athletics was in August when he entered an event in Italy, however, he tested positive for Covid-19, and was withdrawn from the race. Just a day after the meet, he returned a false positive.

On Tuesday night, he lined-up in the low key event which featured very few big names in sprinting, but the meet record still stood at 44.95.

Running in lane 4, Van Niekerk made a slow start and going into the final bend he was still running in fourth or fifth, and he did look very rusty indeed.

In his usual fashion, Van Niekerk cracked on the afterburners in the homestretch to beat Jochem Dobber of the Netherlands by 0.20 sec. Poland’s Karol Zalewki rounded off the podium to take bronze in 46.03 sec.

In February, Van Niekerk made his official comeback to the track following the long-term injury when he won the 100 and 200m during the annual Motheo/ Xhariep Athletics meet in the City of Roses.

Earlier in that same week he also competed in and won the 100 and 800m during an unofficial University of the Free State hostel meet at Pellies Park on the campus. This event was on a grass track and the times were handheld.

A week later, Van Niekerk competed in the 400m during the Free State Championships at the Free State Athletics Stadium and wIn the race in a time of 47.42sec. – MORGAN PIEK