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Athletics | SA Track & Field

Wayde van Niekerk © Getty Images

‘Bolt inspired me to break world record’

Training with Jamaican athletics legend Usain Bolt gave Wayde van Niekerk the self-belief he could break Michael Johnson's 400 metres world record, he told The Times on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old South African duly delivered in perhaps the performance of last year's athletics programme at the Olympics in Rio, posting a time of 43.03 in the final to smash Johnson's 17-year-old mark of 43.18.

Van Niekerk conceded that with Bolt due to bow out after the World Athletics Championships in London in August he is not the man to replace him as the poster boy or showman of the sport.

"A lot of people say, 'Wayde, you need to be more of an entertainer'," said the athlete coached by  74-year-old grandmother Anna Botha.

"I am not that type but I see qualities I share with Usain Bolt, and that brings a form of comfort even if it won’t sell T-shirts."

However, he acknowledges the role the 30-year-old sprinter played in instilling the belief in him he could threaten Johnson's world record and once he had done that to take it under the 43sec mark.

"I got to realise we are all human beings and that what's possible for him (Bolt) is possible for me," said Van Niekerk referring to the three weeks he spent training with Bolt last year.

"His environment is no different to ours. That was a massive confidence-booster.

"A window opened. Why not achieve what they can? When the clock stopped at 43.03 I had no choice but to think of going under 43.

"To dream of 43.02 would make no sense."

Van Niekerk, though, is hoping he can emulate Johnson's feat at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg and achieve the 200m/400m double in London.

However, he has to hope the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) agree to his request at their council meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in London to amend the schedule.

"I am a 100, 200 and 400 athlete so will dream for every record there is," said Van Niekerk, who revealed he took his mind off a painful hamstring prior to the 400m final by watching his beloved Liverpool beat Arsenal in the Premier League.

"What sort of athlete would I be if I didn't?" added Van Niekerk, who furthering his relationship with Liverpool got engaged to his longtime South African girlfriend Chesney Campbell in the city last Christmas.


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