The world 400m sprint champion, Wayde van Niekerk of Bloemfontein, got his international season underway with a win at the Diamond League in Rome last night.
Van Niekerk clocked a time of 44.19 seconds during his first race outside of South Africa this year to beat Grenada’s Bralon Taplin by 0.24 seconds.
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala claimed bronze in a time of 44.85 seconds for his season’s best time.
Following his race, the South African Sportsman of the Year, Van Niekerk, said it’s a good start to his international season with his end goal being the Olympics.
“It took me a while to recover after the race. It was a challenge but I am glad I won.
“It is a good start to build up towards the rest of the season.
“The Olympic Games will be a new challenge for me, a new motivation with a different, fresh spirit.
“I am excited to compete against all these strong guys. I am confident, I think I have a good position this season and I am looking forward to the fight with this spirit. Never give up.”
In the women’s 800m, South Africa’s Caster Semenya wasted no time in winning the race in a time of 1:56.64 seconds to beat Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba by more than one and a half seconds.
It was Semenya’s third Diamond League win this season, however, she feel she needs to gain consistency.
“Now I need to be consistent to maintain this shape until the Olympics. My dream, my main goal is of course Olympic gold.
“I am very pleased with the time. I did a lot of travelling with very little rest. I am trying to keep up the shape. It is not easy.
“Getting the gold medal in Rio is very important for me, now is the right time. I got a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and now I can take fast paces.
“I try to improve more in tactical races. We worked more on speed because coming from behind like in this race – it is not easy to adjust to the pace.
“I will go back for the African championships, it is not easy to maintain such a performance. I must not relax because I won.
“I will do the 800m in the Olympics even though I also qualified for the 400m, maybe I will run more 400m races next year, I want to make the South Africans proud.”
South Africa’s javelin queen, Sunette Viljoen also had an outstanding in Rome and clinch gold with a best heave of 61.95m.
Both Van Niekerk and Semenya are seen as firm favourites to claim gold at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. – MORGAN PIEK
Watch Van Niekerk’s win in Rome