Wayde van Niekerk to use Tokyo Olympics delay to continue knee rehab

Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa celebrates after winning the men's 400 metres final during day five of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2017. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk says that while the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus outbreak was a "downer" the delay will give him time to regain full fitness.

The 27-year-old was one of the stand-out performers of the 2016 Rio Games where he stormed to gold in a world record time of 43.03, smashing the previous mark of 43.18 set by Michael Johnson in 1999.

But a serious knee injury sustained in a charity touch rugby game in October 2017 has meant Van Niekerk has seen very little of the track since.

He had just started his competitive comeback in the last few months, giving him little time to prepare for Tokyo.

"I'm trying to see the positive in it," Van Niekerk was quoted by South Africa's Daily Maverick on Wednesday.

"I view it as more time to prepare, more time to work and more time to invest in my career. Tokyo is just another stepping stone to the entire legacy that I want to leave behind."

Read: The complicated path back to normalcy for 11,000 Olympic hopefuls

Had the Games gone ahead as scheduled in July, Van Niekerk would have had few opportunities to test his knee and build up speed but he can now be more cautious in his return.

He added: "This gives me more time to work and strengthen myself to be in even better shape for the Olympic Games.

"As much as it is a downer that it's not happening this year, it will still happen. There is another opportunity for us as athletes to showcase our talent."

The Games have been postponed into 2021, the first such delay in the 124-year modern history of the event, as the coronavirus crisis wrecked the last international sporting showpiece still standing this year.