South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk turns 22 today, and the sprinter gifted himself with the perfect present on the eve of his birthday: a Personal Best (PB) and National Record (NR) of 19.94s in the 200m ‘B’ Race at the European Athletics Permit Meeting in Luzern, Switzerland on Tuesday.

He becomes the first South African to break the 20s barrier in 200m, and the fourth athlete of all time to have broken the 20s/44s mark in the 200m/400m. Others in this exclusive class include multiple Olympic and world champion, Michael Johnson (19.32s/43.18s), LaShawn Merritt (19.98s/43.74s) and Isaac Makwala (19.96s/43.72s).

This is an improvement of his previous time of 20.19s set last year in Lausanne. Van Niekerk’s new time erases the NR of 20.04s set by team mate, Anaso Jobodwana in May. Van Niekerk finished ahead of Panama’s Alonso Edward, who clocked a Season’s Best (SB) of 20.03s, as Jamaica’s Warren Weir placed a distant 5th with 20.45. Incidentally, Jobodwana took the ‘A’ race in Luzern with a time of 20.12s.

This has indeed been a breakout year for Van Niekerk who stunned Olympic and Commonwealth 400m champion, Kirani James at the Meeting Areva, finishing ahead of the Grenadian with a scorching 43.96s, a then African Record. However Botswana’s Makwala erased the mark the following day, but the South African still holds the enviable position of becoming the first African to dip inside 44s.

Bahrain’s Kemi Adekoya is on a roll, following an impressive outing at the meeting where she finished 2nd to Commonwealth champion, Stephenie Ann McPherson. She recorded a PB and NR of 50.86s as the Jamaican won with a time 50.50s. Adekoya’s former mark of 51.11s was set in the semis of last year’s Asian Games.

This is the hurdler’s third NR of the season, having clocked 54.31s in the 400m Hurdles at the Asian Championships in June, before lowering it to 54.12s at the Paris Diamond League, which puts her on No.6 position in the world. The Nigerian born athlete is keen on making the podium in Beijing, and she seems just set to do so.

Former national champion Ogho-Oghene Egwero is still in pursuit of the qualification mark for the forthcoming World Championships, and was in action in Luzern. He competed in the men’s 100m ‘B’ Race where he finished 3rd in 10.21s behind Turkey’s Jak Ali Harvey (10.15s) and former world champion, Yohan Blake (10.20s).

The ‘A’ Race was taken by the world’s No.2 man, Asafa Powell who returned a time of 9.87s, and was followed by compatriots, Nesta Carter (10.06s) and Kemar Bailey-Cole (10.10s), while Great Britain’s Chijindu Ujah placed 4th with 10.13s.

And so the quest continues for the 2009 National Sports Festival (NSF) double champion, who is Nigeria’s fastest man in 2015, having clocked 10.20s at the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) All-Comers in Lagos. Jonathan Nmaju and Nicholas Imhoaperamhe follow in the rankings as both athletes have returned a time of 10.23s.

Miles Ukaoma participated in the men’s 400m Hurdles, finishing 5th with 49.83s. The race was won by Jeffery Gibson of the Bahamas who powered to an NR/PB of 48.77s. Annsert Whyte of Jamaica (48.95s) and USA’s Jeshua Anderson (49.08s) followed in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

It’s unnerving that Nigeria is yet to meet the qualifying marks for the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m, Long Jump and Triple Jump events among others. One can only wonder if any male athlete will compete in an individual event in Beijing, save perhaps for Ukaoma who met the qualifying mark for his event in April, clocking 49.25s in Texas.

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Yemi Olus is a Senior Sports Writer and Editor at Making of Champions. She has a bias for Athletics and was previously a Sports Reporter at the National Mirror, where she hosted a weekly column ‘On the Track with Yemi Olus’ for over two years. A self-acclaimed ‘athletics junkie’, she has covered national and international events live, such as the African Athletics Championships, African Games and IAAF World Championships. She has also freelanced for the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and currently hosts a weekly Track and Field column in the Vanguard Newspaper.

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