Rio 2016: Van Niekerk ready to handle the pressure


Wayde van Niekerk is backing himself to live up to the hype in Rio as he eyes 400 metres gold in his first Olympics this weekend.

Van Niekerk was crowned world champion in Beijing last year and is the favourite to take the 400m Olympic title in Brazil on Sunday.

The South African won his heat on Friday and will be back on the track in the semi-finals at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Van Niekerk faces stiff competition from the likes of Olympic champion Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt, but the 24-year-old is backing himself to handle the weight of expectation.

Speaking courtesy of Adidas, he told Omnisport: "I'm in a very comfortable position at this moment. I feel quite confident in my performances and in myself. I'm just trying to stay focused, keep healthy and recover. I will try to put my best foot forward.

"I think I have got myself up there with the world's best but there is always space for someone else to come up as a surprise. I will put in my best performance and then hopefully things will go my way.

"Whether you're a world champion or not, there is always pressure with the sport and the Games. This is what we strive for in this sport. I am just embracing the emotions and taking the opportunities as they come."

Van Niekerk, who carried the flag for South Africa at the opening ceremony last Friday, is planning to see the sights of Rio after showcasing his talents on the biggest stage of all.

"It's been lovely but I haven't really been out much. I am mainly focused in the village and training." he added.

"First priority is the race this weekend then I will do some sightseeing."