Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How Bolt Turned Van Niekerk into a Superstar in South Africa; Country Are Finally Warming Up to the Sprinter's Qualities after the Great's Praise for New Kid on Block

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How Bolt Turned Van Niekerk into a Superstar in South Africa; Country Are Finally Warming Up to the Sprinter's Qualities after the Great's Praise for New Kid on Block

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Majendie

IN South Africa, it has taken the intervention of Usain Bolt to give Wayde van Niekerk superstar status. In a country where rugby, cricket and football greats are lauded, true acknowledgment of Van Niekerk's stature has been a long time coming.

When he was first crowned world champion, his mother, Odessa, was supposedly the only person to meet him on his return flight from Beijing.

Following his world record and Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro a year later, the attention raised but not quite to the level it perhaps deserved.

Instead, it has taken Bolt to nudge him further into the realm of a superstar in his own country.

The world's fastest man is set to retire this weekend and Van Niekerk has been tipped as his successor as the figurehead of athletics.

"He has shown he's ready for the challenge," said Bolt. "He's really down to earth, he's really humble, he's a great person. He listens and wants to be good and, if he continues like this he'll take over track and field."

This de facto coronation for the new king of track and field has not gone completely unnoticed in South Africa, according to sports journalist Ockert de Villiers.

"As a nation, we are warming up to the idea that we have an athletic superstar but it's not the level it should be," he said. "People haven't woken up to the fact he's a global superstar.

"I think the whole Bolt narrative is playing into it.

"The thing is that Bolt and he appear to have some sort of relationship, I think that has had an effect. If Bolt thinks this guy is amazing, we must also think he's amazing."

There is no denying that life has changed for Van Niekerk since Rio. The sponsorship deals with Audi, Visa and Adidas among others have got more numerous and lucrative, although only to the tune of an estimated PS1.5 million at this stage.

His face adorns billboards and he features in an increasing number of adverts on South African TV.

Tonight, Van Niekerk has the chance to further elevate his position at home and abroad with gold in the 400metres and possibly become the first man to dip under the 43-second mark. …

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