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Van Niekerk retains 400m gold


South African star Wayde van Niekerk is halfway to his target of the 400 metres and 200m world double after easing to victory in the former on Tuesday in London.

The 25-year-old’s task of landing both eased considerably with main rival Isaac Makwala of Botswana barred from running by the sport’s governing body because he had been diagnosed with the highly contagious norovirus.

It didn’t prevent the 30-year-old from turning up at the warm-up track only to be turned away. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said he should be in quarantine and not near the track.

“It was definitely a heartbreaking moment,” Van Niekerk said. “I have a lot of sympathy for Isaac.

“It is quite disappointing. I would have liked him to have his opportunity.

“But this is sports, these things happen.”

Van Niekerk added that the double was not a given.

“It’s easier said than done,” he said. “It’s competition, it’s very unpredictable.

“My body still feels very good. It took me a while to recover tonight.

“But from endurance I go straight to speed tomorrow… It’s a day-by-day, step-by-step process for us athletes.”

Van Niekerk, the Olympic and defending champion and world record holder, ran a controlled race and was even able to ease down over the final strides as he secured the first half of what he hopes will be a 400/200m double.

Steven Gardiner, 21, of the Bahamas was a clear second in 44.41 and 20-year-old world junior champion Abdalelah Haroun of Qatar blasted through at the end to snatch bronze in 44.48.

Botswana suffered further disappointment as 800m race favourite Nijel Amos — second on the same track in the 2012 Olympic final — faded to finish fifth with Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse taking a deserved gold for a bold and brave performance which he revealed afterwards reflected his love of gambling.

“I am a gambler, I love going to the casino,” said Bosse.

“And today I just gambled, I put everything on the red, even my last Euro. So hopefully, this is also for luck in love.”

However, for his compatriot Renaud Lavillenie his world gold drought continued even in the stadium where he won Olympic gold in 2012.

The Frenchman had to settle for bronze — his fifth minor medal in the world championships — with American Sam Kendricks taking the title in front of his parents and girlfriend to boot.

Kendricks, a first lieutenant in the US Army reserve, cleared 5.95 metres while Poland’s Piotr Lisek took the silver and Lavillenie had to be content with a fourth world bronze despite producing his best leap of the season. Lisek, joint bronze medallist in Beijing two years ago, and Frenchman Lavillenie, who also won silver in 2013, both cleared 5.89 but the Pole took silver on countback.

Olympic champions Fabio Braz pulled out last month due to form and fitness problems.

Kendricks, unbeaten in 2017 after 10 competitions outdoors and one indoors, was again in imperious form as he moved through the first five heights without a failure.

The 24-year-old, who barely picked his pole for five months during the autumn and winter while on active duty, failed his first two attempts at 5.95 before clearing the third to a huge roar.

“It is all part of a mission for me. I make a goal and chop it down to make it attainable. I’ve finally got that world title and I could not be happier,” Kendricks said.

“It was another fantastic competition today and I had to jump high to take the gold.”

Lisek had two failures at 5.65 and another at 5.82 before deciding to move to 5.89 which he cleared at the first attempt but the next height proved a bridge too far.

Titleholder Shawn Barber of Canada struggled all evening and never looked in contention.

He had one failure at the lowest height of 5.50 and only just avoided elimination at 5.65 which he cleared at the third attempt despite clipping the bar, before going out at 5.75.

Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe, who won the title four years ago in Moscow, fared even worse as he was eliminated in the very first round at 5.50.

Belgian’s Arnaud Art made an unfortunate exit at the first height, falling on his third attempt after his hands slipped from the pole.

An emotional Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic said it felt “so easy” to regain the javelin world title she first won 10 years ago at the World Championships. The world record holder threw 66.76 metres on her second attempt in the final, which proved enough to clinch a second world gold for the 36-year-old.

In the same stadium where she won the second of her Olympic titles five years ago, a jubilant Spotakova was lifted aloft by a member of her team following her final throw.

“At this stadium, I am unbeatable. There must be something in the air about London. I cannot explain it but when I enter this stadium, I always feel so calm and relaxed,” she said.

“The whole day I was thinking about my last world title which was 10 years ago in Osaka. Actually, it is also almost exactly five years since my Olympic title here in London.

“These facts made me feel very emotional and I could not believe it has been already such a long time ago. I do not even know if I deserve this title today, it felt so easy.”

Although she did not come anywhere near to her world record mark of 72.28, it was a vast improvement on the previous year for the Czech who took bronze at the Rio Olympics.

Sara Kolak of Croatia, the Olympic champion, missed out on the medal places by finishing fourth.

China’s Li Lingwei, twice Asian champion, threw a personal best of 66.25 to clinch silver and her compatriot Lyu Huihui, who came second in Beijing two years ago, claimed bronze with her penultimate throw of 65.26.