South Africa’s anthem, prayer power Van Niekerk

27 August 2015

Saying a little prayer before the race and singing the national anthem the night before, were the remedies athlete Wayde van Niekerk used to calm his nerves, before the young Kraaifontein man made South Africans proud when he clinched the gold medal for the 400m at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing yesterday.

The win comes after a record made in July, when he became the first South African to dip below 20 seconds in the 200m in Switzerland. He was also the first African to run a sub-44 second time in the 400m.

Yet he said that the stress leading up to the race at the Bird’s Nest stadium “nearly killed” him this week. “Before the race I was feeling quite nervy. I always am. I was lame and very weak‚ I thought to myself, ‘I’m in trouble now because I’m stressing myself out way too much’. I said a little prayer on the track.”

He then set his target on reigning world champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States. “I kinda knew he’s the one to beat,” said Van Niekerk. “I tried to get with him as fast as possible and I came out of the first 100 feeling quite good about myself. the nerves were better. I just started building up from there.”

The final 50m were tough. “It was so difficult because I could feel them coming up on to me‚ but at the same time I felt strong enough to pull it away.

“Just that thought‚ ‘I’m actually busy winning‚ I’m actually busy winning’ was quite overwhelming. I just tried to keep it up‚” said Van Niekerk‚ who crossed the line in 43.48 seconds.

He became very stressful before every single race, said the sprinter. “I might have looked very composed on the track but lying in my bed at night was not the best feeling. I couldn’t sleep.”

Sometimes he would lie down and just visualise the races. “I just had to pinch myself and say‚ ‘Wayde‚ calm down; Wayde‚ it still has to come.’

“The heats were probably the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had because I had to get over that fear because last world championships [in 2013] I was knocked out.

“Funny‚ I was singing the whole national anthem in my head last night to fall asleep‚ saying to myself, ‘You can do it‚ you can do it.’ I just wanted it so bad I kept on singing it in my head until I fell asleep. I had a good night’s rest.”

Van Niekerk’s post-race celebration on the track was brief‚ though, and when he sat down to try to recover‚ he was unable to get up. “I tried to stay active but I think my mistake was to go and sit down again after that and I couldn’t stand up.”

Medical staff attended to him on the track, and then took him to hospital.

“I don’t think it was very necessary‚” he said. “Obviously the lactic comes with the sport. It just seems I was the only athlete out of the eight‚ nine guys that got tired‚” he said with a laugh. “Before I knew it they were busy taking me off the track and I was out of breath. It’s actually normal. It seems I’m the only one who dies after a race.”

But he was back at his hotel soon after midnight to enjoy a low-key welcome and a cold supper, and to read through more than 100 WhatsApp messages on his phone. Congratulations also streamed in via the social media pages of Van Niekerk and his family.

On Instagram this morning, the winner said to his fans: “Morning to all, extremely sorry if I can’t thank each and every one. But I’m really thankful for all the amazing messages and all really truly appreciate it.

“Was an honour representing my country and making you all proud. I am fine just made the wrong decision to sit down last night. really love, cherish and appreciate everyone!”

Van Niekerk, who will receive his medal before the start of this evening’s finals‚ is now looking ahead to the Olympics in Rio next year.

“Once you’ve been blessed with something you need to use it as best as possible. I’m not going to waste it‚” said the sprinter‚ who started out in the 100m and 200m before moving up in distance.

“I hate the 400m but look how far it’s brought me. It does put me on the floor afterwards,” he said. “There’s obviously still the Olympics next year. That’s definitely a must that I need to turn up for. I would love to double up on the gold again.”

Source: RDM Wire