Van Niekerk pays tribute to Jamaica's rich athletics legacy
VAN NIEKERK...I love the culture, I love the country, I love the people (Photo: Observer file)

WORLD record holder Wade van Niekerk says competing at the Racers Grand Prix is an "honour" and says he looks forward to competing in Jamaica, a nation with a rich track and field legacy.

The South African, who is still getting back to his very best after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2017, expressed his appreciation for the Jamaican people and culture.

Van Niekirk, who set the world record 43.03 seconds running out of lane eight in the final of the men's 400m at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, said: "I'm extremely excited, this is one of my highlights for a while now. I love the culture, I love the country, I love the people — and I mean, you guys are genuine track lovers."

In a release from the organisers of the Racers Grand Prix set for June 3 at the National Stadium in Kingston, van Niekirk expressed his deep admiration for Jamaica, referring to it as the "Mecca of track and field," and praised Jamaicans' genuine passion, knowledge, and unwavering support for the sport, recognising their unparalleled contributions to the world of athletics.

The two-time World Athletic Championships silver medallist says he feels "honoured to compete in a country that has produced countless track and field legends", and expressed his excitement at the opportunity to leave his mark on Jamaican soil, paying tribute to the great athletes who have emerged from the nation.

He said: "If you look at the amazing athletes that [have] come through in track and field, and being able to, not just honour the greats that have come out of Jamaica but also to put my feet into Jamaican soil and compete there, and leave my mark behind in such a country that I respect when it comes to track and field, it's exciting for me."

Van Niekirk, who trained with the Racers Track Club in 2017, says the World Athletics Continental Tour – silver event holds significant importance for him, serving as a vital part of his preparations for the upcoming World Championships.

"I'm in a stage now where I need to build my confidence, to get back to winning ways, and that's where my mentality is at. I'm looking forward to the positives that lay ahead of me and I'm hoping to use Jamaica as one of my positive stepping stones, moving forward, for the major competitions that do await us, and also use it as a positive step forward," he remarked.

The release added: "Recognising the passionate support that Jamaican fans bring to track and field, van Niekerk is eager to utilise their energy and enthusiasm to his advantage. He believes that competing in an environment that embraces and loves the sport will provide him with a positive atmosphere to achieve outstanding results.

"With his eyes set on the podium at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, van Niekerk hopes that a successful performance at the Racers Grand Prix will help set the stage for a triumphant return to the top tier of the 400m event."

BY PAUL A REID Observer writer

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