Van Niekerk, Thompson cruise ahead of Bolt show

South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk competes in the heats of the men's 400m athletics event ...
South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk competes in the heats of the men's 400m athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium in London on August 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk and Elaine Thompson of Jamaica two athletes who the sport’s authorities hope will take up the baton after the retirement of superstar Usain Bolt coasted through their heats at the world championships on Saturday.

Their performances were simply the appetiser on the day when 30-year-old Bolt will run his last individual races in a major championship in the 100 metres – and the charismatic Jamaican hopes culminate in his 12th world gold medal although he may not be able to afford the terrible start he had in his heat on Friday.

400m world record holder Van Niekerk – who has trained with Bolt’s group and is hoping to emulate Michael Johnson in the 1995 world championship and do the 200/400m double — was content to allow Costa Rican Nery Brenes to have his moment in the sun in his heat for 350 metres before he upped a gear to saunter across the line in front — Brenes day turned sour as he was subsequently disqualified.

Young American Fred Kerley looked very impressive in strolling to victory in his heat, the 22-year-old all but pulling up in the final 50 metres — leaving experienced campaigners such as Belgium’s 2010 European champion Kevin Borlee trailing in his wake although the 29-year-old took one of the other automatic qualifying spots in third.

Botswana’s Africa champion Baboloki Thebe signalled he would be a live medal contender with an impressive performance in winning his heat ad make up for the 20-year-old’s disappointment of injury preventing him from taking his place in the Olympic semi-finals last year.

He was joined in the semi-finals by compatriot Isaac Makwala, who won his heat beating American veteran two-time world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt.

“Wayde van Niekerk is my brother. We want to conquer the world together and make the final for Africa,” said 30-year-old Makwala.

“He is so friendly and a lovely guy.”

Thompson danced through the rain to book her place in the 100 metres semi-finals whilst bitter rival Dafne Schippers of The Netherlands also looked in smart form in finishing second in her heat.

Schippers, who admits her relationship with 100m and 200m Olympic champion Thompson is ‘very bad’, has moved mountains to redress the gap between herself and the Jamaican including working on her start.

“I’ve been working on my starts and that one was okay,” said 25-year-old Schippers, who finished fifth in last year’s 100m Olympic final and then took silver in the 200m.

“My body is feeling good at the moment and I am not tired.

“I am excited for the semi-finals tomorrow (Sunday).

“It’s a good start for now,” added the 2015 200m world champion.

Olympic shot put champion Ryan Crouser looks in the sort of form to add the world crown to his title haul after easing into Sunday’s final with the 24-year-old American needing only one throw of 20.90 metres to qualify for Sunday’s final.

Crouser, who wolfs down 4000 calories a day, didn’t finish top of the qualifiers — those honours were taken by New Zealand’s Olympic bronze medalist Tom Walsh, who registered a mark of 22.14 metres.

“To get the qualifier on your first throw is exactly what you want, but to throw  22m is another thing all together,” said Walsh.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you just get out there and throw for throwing’s sake,” added the 25-year-old former builder.


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