By Wendell Roelf
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - World 400 meters champion Wayde van Niekerk is hoping disruptions to his training program will not stop him becoming South Africa’s first Olympic gold medalist in the event for almost a century at this year's Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The marketing student at Free State University was not allowed to run in his first major race of the season on Friday after failing to attend enough classes for a minimum 60 academic credits during 2015 when he emerged as a major talent.
Van Niekerk, 23, collapsed in a heap after the world championship final in Beijing in August after holding off two former champions to run the sixth fastest 400m of all time in 43.48 seconds.
“I still have a big year ahead of me and I’m going to try and find myself the appropriate races to race and find myself the right competitions to compete at so that I can find fitness before the Olympics at the end of the year,” Van Niekerk told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Van Niekerk plans to compete in the 100m and 200m races at the Free State championship next week.
“For the Olympics I am purely focused on the 400. I believe that I stand quite a good chance there now, so I don’t think I’m going to gamble too much at Rio,” he said.
American Michael Johnson set the world record of 43.18 in 1999.
“At the moment I am just focused on improving me and if that means I get my own personal world record then I will accept it,” Van Niekerk said.
Van Niekerk is becoming used to life in the media spotlight and the celebrity status of being world champion.
“I am good shape, I am in good health,” said the self-confessed introvert who relaxes at home in his spare time watching movies or playing video games with his brother and girlfriend.
South Africa’s only 400 meters Olympic gold medal winner was Bevil Rudd, who triumphed at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)