CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African 400 meters world champion Wayde van Niekerk will train with sprint king Usain Bolt in Jamaica next month in a bid to shave vital fractions of a second off his time in a chase for Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.
Van Niekerk, the only man in history to run under 10 seconds in the 100 meters, sub-20 in the 200 meters and below 44 in the 400 meters, is the second fastest sprinter over his specialist distance this year behind Kirani James from Grenada.
Van Niekerk hopes training with Bolt, world champion in the 100 and 200 meters, and another Jamaican sprint champion, Yohan Blake, will boost his gold medal prospects in Rio.
“I’m excited to go out there and train with them, it’s the world best Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir,” Van Niekerk told Reuters. “I feel I can learn a lot from them and can improve myself as an athlete.
“Going out there and competing against these guys, and training with them, will give me a boost as an athlete to get better.”
Van Niekerk received the invitation from sprint coach Glen Mills, who played a leading role in the development of Bolt into the fastest man alive.
“I have got quite close with coach Mills in the last few months after we spent a lot of time together at lunch and supper tables (at events) and he eventually threw the idea out there and said, ‘wouldn’t you like to come out and train in Jamaica’. Obviously I jumped at the chance.”
Before that, Van Niekerk will compete at the Diamond League event in Rome and later head to Boston. He will also have a major tune-up for the Olympics at the African Athletics Championships to be staged in Durban from June 22.
He has so far run the 400 meters in 44.11 this year, off his personal best of 43.48, the fourth-fastest time in history that won him the World Championships gold in Beijing last year ahead of LaShawn Merritt of the USA and James.
“I’m very confident and comfortable in the position I’m in,” Van Niekerk says of his Olympics build-up. “I am excited to see what lays ahead of me.
“I doubt any of the top three guys are going to Rio not to win the gold medal, that is certainly my vision and goal for the Olympics. I am not thinking about any other medal at the moment, but obviously I need to go there healthy and put in my best performance.”
Van Niekerk has backed the International Olympic Committee decision to re-test drug samples from previous Olympics to root out the cheats.
“It’s great. I’m going out there and competing, trying to stay as clean as possible and it’s nice knowing the game is going to be fair,” he said.
“It’s good to know they are going out there and digging out the guys who have been cheating. It’s not a nice feeling knowing you are putting your all out there and somebody else is cheating.”
The 23-year-old has also backed compatriot Caster Semenya to make a successful comeback in Rio after almost two years on the sidelines with injury.
The 800-metres runner, who won a silver medal in London in 2012, is the quickest in the world over that distance so far this year.
“I’m really excited about Caster, she has been working really hard. I’ve been touring with her and I’ve seen the struggle she went through. I’ve seen how difficult it has been for her to get back to fitness and she is in such good form,” he said.
“I just hope she stays healthy for the Olympics because I know when she gets there she will be in amazing form and prove to the world again that she deserves to be there.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty