London: Wayde van Niekerk says he is building his own “image and brand” and doesn’t want to be tagged as the successor to track and field legends Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson.
The 25-year-old South African 400 metres world record holder just missed out on emulating Johnson’s feat of the 200/400m world championship double, which the American achieved in the 1995 championships, when he took silver in the 200 metres on Thursday behind surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey.
He had successfully defended his 400m world title earlier in the week.
Nevertheless, van Niekerk, who was unusually emotional after the race, raising his arms in celebration when he heard he had finished second, said he believed his effort had been “successful”.
However, he dismissed comparisons with either Johnson — whose 400m world record the South African shattered when he won the Olympic title last year — or 100/200m world record holder Bolt, who is competing in his final global championships.
“I will never try and fill Usain’s shoes, or Michael’s,” said van Niekerk.
“I’ve shown enough dominance, hard work and performances to start building my own image and brand.
“I have the utmost respect for Usain and he is the one I have been watching over the last few years. I have got to know him quite well and I thank him for what he has done for the sport.
“This week is the perfect time for us to honour him.”
However, van Niekerk, who is coached by 74-year-old ‘Auntie’ Ans Botha, tore up the script with regard to his normal generous and complimentary remarks about his rivals when it came to Botswana’s Isaac Makawala, who made allusions to the South African and the sport’s governing body colluding to have him barred from the 400m so the double dream could stay alive.
Makwala, who finished out of the medals in the 200m, had been barred after being diagnosed with the highly contagious norovirus — something both he and his team hotly-contested — and under British health rules had to be placed in quarantine for 48 hours.
‘Not a walk in the park’
“To be honest with you it really did upset me a bit,” said van Niekerk.
“The amount of respect I have shown each and every competitor, including Makwala, and for him to come out and mention my name among something fishy with the IAAF, knowing how hard I have been working ...
“I have been putting out great performances for two years now and I definitely deserve way more respect from my competitors.
“I wouldn’t say it affected me, but I expected more from someone I have been competing against for years now.
“There has been continued respect, and for him to come out with that was a bit disappointing.”
Van Niekerk said he was delighted with the performances of several other South Africans at the championships and the fact that his achievements have helped persuade others to take up the sport instead of opting for the more traditional ones of football, cricket or rugby.
However, he had a warning for them.
“I wish they could be a bit more patient and respect the process as well,” said van Niekerk.
“It is not a walk in the park, you need to take it step-by-step and learn from your experiences and take it from there.
“The youngsters who are coming through now get it a bit easier than we got, we had to fight a bit harder.”