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Ex-recordholder Malherbe excited about Van Niekerk’s improvement
- Updated: June 19, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
Former South African 400-metre record-holder Arnaud Malherbe reckons that Commonwealth Games silver medallist Wayde van Niekerk has turned the proverbial corner in his one-lap career.
This after Van Niekerk sliced another 0.14sec from his own national mark in New York at the weekend, the Bloemfontein athlete running 44.24sec to win the 400m event at the Diamond League meeting.
The 22-year-old’s previous mark had also come at the same meeting a year previously, and is testimony to the fast nature of the track.
Malherbe who set his own national mark of 44.59 on home turf in Roodepoort, back in 1999 is understandably excited at Van Niekerk’s progress.
‘I didn’t see the race live but had a recording of the race sent to me and to me the scary bit is that until the weekend, I don’t think we’ve seen Wayde actually run a proper 400m,’ he told Road to Rio 2016.
‘My impression was that this time we saw him putting it together correctly. He started fast whereas previously he’s always seemed a bit hesitant. To run a good 400m you have to get out of the blocks just like you are starting a 100m sprint.
‘It’s not about running too fast it’s about not running too hard. Once you get into the back straight which is the fastest part of the 400m, you maintain your pace or potentially get even quicker but the trick is not to take too much strain. If you do happen to be straining too hard you won’t feel it right then but when you get into the home straight you’re done.’
Back to the race and Malherbe was again impressed. ‘Chris Brown is an awesome athlete, a former indoor world champion, and Wayde got up next to him early on and just kept this stride. The second bend is always the hardest part of a 400m, the third quarter of the race because you’re getting tired but you still can’t see the finish line so don’t have to that encouragement to pull towards.
‘But into the turn he started working again and although he’s had components of this before in previous races, this time you could see it all coming together.’
Van Niekerk looked comfortable down the home straight and ran through the line strongly.
‘That was also key. Normally if you run your best 400m you are dead at the finish, you should be hanging in there for the last 10m and pretty much fall over the line and collapse but I have no doubt that he had more in the tank and could have gone faster.’
A week before the Big Apple and Van Niekerk had set another record, this time an African mark of 31.63 in the seldom run 300m, in Birmingham.
‘Analysing that race and a lot of things point to sub 44-sec potential,’ says Malherbe.
If it were up to Malherbe, he says he would be looking for Van Niekerk to be upping his distance a bit going forward. ‘I don’t know what he’s doing in training, he might well be doing it already but it would be interesting to see if he’s doing any hard runs of 500m. If you can run a good 500m you’ll always be able to run a great 400m.
‘Other than that some more gym work, plyometrics etc, but having said that, again, he may be doing that already now.’
When it comes to age, Malherbe says that’s not really a huge factor over 400m. ‘Michael Johnson ran his world record when he was 31, Olympic champion Steve Lewis was a junior and 19 years old when he ran 43.87 in 1988 but he never went any faster, so it all depends. Lewis was all about power and muscle whereas Wayde’s success is more down to rhythm and speed which is why I say a bit more power wouldn’t do any harm.’
Asked to nail his colours to the mast and predict just how fast Van Niekerk can go, Malherbe said: ‘I think he can definitely run 43.9. I can’t say when, but it’s do-able. It will all come down to the five main factors of top athletes and how they interact. Those are: Mental toughness, hard work, the ability to stay injury-free, talent and last (but just as importantly) luck.’