'Pain free' Wayde van Niekerk takes significant comeback step

Olympic champion on target to bid for a hat-trick of 400m world titles in Doha next year.

Olympic and world champion Wayde van Niekerk is a step closer to making his long-awaited comeback.

The 26-year-old publicly trained on the track for the first time since undergoing surgery for a knee ligament tear suffered last October.

It’s been a long road to recovery for the 400m world record holder after he sustained the injury playing touch rugby in Cape Town.

The South African seemed in good shape as he sprinted on the indoor track at the Aspire Dome in Doha, close to where he completed his rehabilitation.

Van Niekerk, who will defend his one-lap title at next year's World Championships in Doha, shared his relief in a social media post saying he finally feels 'pain free'.

Long road to recovery

The Olympic champion underwent surgery in November in Colorado shortly after his wedding.

He then had months of intense rehabilitation in the United States, Qatar and back home in South Africa.

Van Niekerk had hoped to return to training last July, eight months after his operation, but it was not to be.

And his physical pain turned into a mental struggle.

"First two months post surgery I regretted every moment wishing I could turn back time or just redo the decisions that brought me to where I am now. But this was my reality and I just had to accept my situation and find a reason to smile again." - Wayde van Niekerk

No competition yet

And the smile is slowly working its way across van Niekerk's his face after weeks of rehab at Aspetar, a leading sports medicine hospital in Doha.

But his team have ruled out a return to competition this season.

“No running this year, completely no race in 2018,” his manager Peet van Zyl told the Olympic Channel.

"He will start his normal track training, bike training. Do a lot of track work. Not high intensity, but a lot of running to get everything back in the legs. He needs all the endurance."

Van Niekerk’s world record run of 43.03 seconds was one of the highlights of Rio 2016 and the biggest moment of his career.

He retained his 400m world title in London last year, and took silver in the 200m.

His personal best in the 200m is 19.84.

Van Niekerk betters 400m world record

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Switching tracks

After ticking another box in his recovery process, van Niekerk flew to Italy to catch some Formula 1 action.

He joined his compatriots, Commonwealth Games champion Akani Simbine and reigning African long jump champion Rushwahl Samaai, trackside at Monza.

Van Niekerk had the VIP treatment at the Italian Grand Prix, rubbing shoulders with retired Brazilian racer Felipe Massa.

The former Ferrari ace was equally delighted at meeting the Olympic star on Saturday.