Wayde van Niekerk looks good in international comeback

Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk.
Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk.

Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk won his first 400m race abroad in more than three years when he stormed to victory after a slow start in Switzerland on Tuesday night.

Van Niekerk jogged out the blocks and let his unfancied rivals set the pace before he attacked in the second half of the race‚ taking the lead on the home straight to clock 45.58sec.

Jochem Dobber of the Netherlands was second in 45.78 and Poland’s Karol Zalewski third in 46.03.

For the South African‚ this was his best time in the one lap since 2017‚ having had a few low-key outings in Bloemfontein early this year and in 2019‚ but hadn’t broken 47 seconds.

The Galà dei Castelli in Bellinzona was Van Niekerk’s first competition overseas since injuring his right knee‚ which required reconstructive surgery‚ and his return was further hampered by being unable to train for 25 days after testing positive for Covid-19 last month.

But he looked good. He clearly had a lot more in the tank‚ although only time will tell how close he’ll get to his 43.03sec world record.

Van Niekerk has said he wants to take it below 43 seconds.

Van Niekerk’s countryman Akani Simbine won the men’s 100m in 10.02‚ edging Italian Filippo Tortu by five-hundredths of a second.

Ruswahl Samaai downed world champion Tajay Gayle of Jamaica in the men’s long jump‚ but he had to settle for second place after being unseated at the death by unheralded Finn Kristian Pulli.

Samaai‚ the bronze medallist at the 2017 world championships‚ had led since the second round‚ where he floated to 8.03m.

An 8.04 on his next leap entrenched his lead‚ which he held until the final sixth round when Pulli soared to 8.08. Gayle was third on 7.99.

Antonio Alkana took third in the men’s 110m hurdles in 13.40‚ behind American Aaron Mallet and Jason Joseph of Switzerland.

The SA quartet were among a handful of stars who competed on the night‚ like Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers who ended fourth in the women’s 100m‚ won in 11.18 by local Ajla Del Ponte‚ who has two Diamond League victories this season.