South African 400m star Wayde van Niekerk has explained how a fear of injury reduced him to tears before his world record-breaking Olympic gold medal win in Rio in 2016.
“I was in total tears before the race,” Van Niekerk told the Paris edition of the Wanda Diamond League Call Room.
“My back and my hamstring weren’t feeling good. I had felt my hamstring twitch exactly on the 200m mark in both heats and in the semi-final. So I was scared when I got to the final.
“But when I got into the blocks, I had to switch my mind back into the race. I thought: I can’t be sulking on my hamstring.
“In the first 200m I was a bit fearful, but I decided to give it my all.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Van Niekerk stormed to victory in 43.03, obliterating Michael Johnson’s world record and crowning himself Olympic champion.
Speaking on the latest Call Room show, Van Nierkerk also talked more about his battle with injury which has seen him out of action since 2017 and said he is “100 percent ready” to return when lockdown lifts.
“There were days when I couldn’t walk,” said the 27-year-old, who added that he has had to learn to differentiate between “bad pain when I am on the brink of injuring myself and pain where I just need a day or two of rest and recovery”.
He added: “I had to learn to listen to my body more, and I thank my coaches for listening to me when I am in that situation. You get a lot of coaches who would have pushed athletes through that pain, but my team was very patient.
“My body is feeling good. I have had time to allow my knee to get used to that ‘on your marks’ feeling.”
Van Niekerk ran successfully over all three sprinting distances in Bloemfontein in February and said: “That gave me a massive confidence boost to know that I still have my speed. I knew I needed to challenge my body to break through the barriers. Now I just need to puzzle everything back together again to run the 400m successfully.”
With the Diamond League season on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the two-time world gold medallist is itching to get back on the track.
“It was a bit difficult, because I felt like it was my time to start competing again!” he said. “I had to shift my mind again back to working and grinding, so that when I get my opportunity, I am ready.
“I think it was easier for me than for some other athletes, because I have been in a two-year, lockdown hibernation vibe anyway with my injury!”