Wayde van Niekerk didn’t even push through the line to win the 400 meters at the world championships on Tuesday. After all, his semifinal heat in the 200 is coming on Wednesday.
Much like Usain Bolt at his best, Van Niekerk can cruise even against the best in the world.
The South African now has two world titles, OIympic gold and the world record in the 400, not to mention an aura starting to approach that of the Jamaican great.
“After this, it is back tomorrow,” Van Niekerk said, looking ahead as he lay on the track trying to relax his legs.
The only thing missing Tuesday was his toughest opponent, Isaac Makwala. The Botswanan runner, who came down with a stomach virus, was kept out of the final because organizers wanted him in quarantine.
Running just inside Makwala’s empty Lane 7, Van Niekerk kept up a sustained pace until easing at the finish. He still produced a sub 44-second time, winning in 43.98 seconds.
Silver medalist Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas was .43 seconds behind and Abdalelah Haroun of Qatar finished in 44.48 for bronze.
Before Van Niekerk’s race, Kenya continued its dominance in the steeplechase.
Conseslus Kipruto got his nation another gold medal with an unmatchable kick over the final 300 meters, leaving him enough of a gap to celebrate exuberantly down the final stretch.
The Olympic champion used the pride of his gold medal from Rio de Janeiro to push him.
“I told myself: `I am Olympic champion,’ and that others must break me,” Kipruto said. “There are others who are strong but I used my own plans.”
Kipruto easily held off Soufiane El Bakkali to win in 8:14.12, .37 seconds ahead of the Moroccan.
Evan Jager of the United States, who led much of the way, took bronze. He had been favored to finally break the Kenyans in the event. Kenyan or Kenyan-born runners have won the steeplechase at the world championships and the Olympics every time since 1987.
The United States did get gold, though, when Sam Kendricks was the only man to scale 5.95 meters in the pole vault.
Piotr Lisek of Poland took silver with a jump of 5.89, edging world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France on a countback.
Pierre-Ambroise Bosse made up for French disappointment. He earned the upset of the evening when he took the lead with 200 meters to go in the 800-meter final and hung on for gold.
Behind him, Adam Kszczot of Poland took silver, edging Kipyegon Bett of Kenya.
There also was gold for Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic, who again won the world title in the javelin a decade after her last one.
The 36-year-old two-time Olympic champion won gold at the 2012 London Games and then took a break from competition to become a mother. She won with a throw of 66.76 meters.
Li Lingwei took silver with a toss of 66.25 meters, while Chinese teammate Lyu Huihui got bronze with a throw of 65.26.
Makwala was not the only high profile no-show on Tuesday.
Tori Bowie pulled out of the 200 with injury. The lunge at the line which helped the American win gold in the 100 on Sunday left her hurting. Pulling out Tuesday was also a precaution to get ready for the 4x100 relay this weekend.
Instead, defending champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands set the early standard in the 200 heats, jogging across the line and still winning in the best qualifying time of 22.63 seconds.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica is not competing in the 200 this week, but Olympic 400 champion Shaunae Miller-Oibo of the Bahamas is. She won her heat in 22.69, the second fastest time on a chilly night at the Olympic Stadium.