Van Niekerk out for months after injuring knee in rugby game

October 31, 2017

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) South African runner Wayde van Niekerk was forced to put his honeymoon on hold to have surgery Tuesday in the United States on a serious right knee injury he sustained while playing in a celebrity tag rugby game three weeks ago.

The Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 400 meters is expected to be out of action for around 6-9 months and will miss the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.

Van Niekerk tore his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus cartilage when he slipped and fell in the rugby game at a stadium in Cape Town, South Africa on Oct. 7. He was appearing in a tag game made up of South African celebrities ahead of the international rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand.

He left the celebrity game after falling but van Niekerk didn't think he'd injured himself so seriously at the time, and it took him a couple of days before he realized he needed scans, his manager, Peet van Zyl said.

Van Zyl confirmed the diagnosis to The Associated Press and said van Niekerk will have surgery at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, later Tuesday.

''This is sport and these things happen,'' van Niekerk said in a statement from his management company. ''I trust that the team I have around me, including the medical professionals, will make this process as smooth as possible.''

He also tweeted: ''Thanks to all for the kind wishes! Sadly I announce now that I'll be off the track for a while. Will be back stronger!''

The clinic in Colorado was ''No. 1 for knees,'' manager van Zyl said.

Van Zyl said he couldn't give an exact period for how long van Niekerk, who is also a two-time world champion, would be out of action, but he would definitely miss the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in April. Van Zyl said they were tentatively scheduling a return for van Niekerk in July or August but it would depend on the surgery and his rehabilitation.

The 25-year-old van Niekerk will stay in Colorado for 2-3 weeks before heading to Doha, Qatar, for his rehabilitation.

''I have faith that, God willing, I'll be able to race again later next year,'' he said. ''Full recovery is going to be crucial, so I'll be patient, but I will work as hard as I can to get back on the track as soon as possible.''

Van Zyl said they held back news of van Niekerk's injury because of the athlete's wedding in South Africa on Sunday. He then flew to the U.S. on Monday.

Van Niekerk delivered perhaps the most resounding performance of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when he won gold and broke Michael Johnson's world record in the 400 in a breathtaking wire-to-wire run from lane eight. Johnson's mark of 43.18 seconds had stood for 17 years.

Van Niekerk has also raised the possibility that he could win major titles in the 100, 200 and 400 meters after his silver in the 200 at the worlds in August. He is the only athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100, under 20 seconds in the 200, and under 44 seconds in the 400.

He was going to run the 100 and 200 at the Commonwealth Games. Although he called the injury ''unfortunate timing,'' van Niekerk does have a year with no Olympics or world championships to recover.


This story has been corrected to show that Michael Johnson's world record stood for 17 years, not 18.