Track and Field·IAAF Worlds

Defending 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk won't protect title at worlds

Wayde van Niekerk won't defend his 400-metre title at the world championships because he is still recovering from a serious knee injury sustained while playing a charity tag rugby match in late 2017.

World record holder still recovering from serious 2017 knee injury

South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk, seen above at the 2017 world track and field championships, won't compete in the upcoming 2019 event as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury suffered in 2017. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Wayde van Niekerk won't defend his 400-metre title at the world championships because he hasn't fully recovered from a serious knee injury he sustained playing a charity tag rugby match in South Africa in late 2017.

The Olympic champion and world-record holder, who is also a two-time world champion, said Monday he was again delaying his comeback. It means he will have been sidelined for two years after hurting himself playing in the celebrity rugby game in Cape Town in October 2017.

"I'm still positive and I'm just taking things day by day, respecting all the calls made by the doctor and respecting my body," van Niekerk said in a statement. "For me it's just about listening to my body and taking it from there.

"My main goal is to look after my body and when the opportunity comes, I'll take it. For now I'm not rushing myself or putting pressure on myself."

The 27-year-old South African, who broke Michael Johnson's 17-year-old world record in one of the standout performances of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, hasn't run competitively since tearing the anterior cruciate ligaments and meniscus in his right knee. He underwent surgery at a clinic in Colorado soon after the injury and has been rehabilitating at a sports medical center in Doha, Qatar.

Van Niekerk's cousin plays for South Africa's rugby team and the Olympic champion agreed to appear in the charity game because of that.

Aiming for return in Tokyo

He was initially due to return to competition this year at the Diamond League meeting in London in July but also had to pull out of that event because of the knee. He's now aiming for a return to top-level competition next year in time for the Olympics in Tokyo.

Van Niekerk's management company said it was confident he will return to the track and called the latest delay to his comeback "a minor setback." The company said van Niekerk wouldn't run at the worlds in Doha this month for "precautionary reasons."

"The medical teams ... did all we could to have him ready for the IAAF world championships, but it was just not possible," said Louis Holtzhausen, van Niekerk's doctor. "However, he has successfully returned to track training and all indications are that he will recover more rapidly from now on."

Van Niekerk is currently training with his coach at a base in Gemona, Italy, having recently spent more time in rehabilitation in Doha, his management team said.

The world championships run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6. Catch all the live action exclusively at CBC Sports and CBCSports.ca.

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