Wayde van Niekerk wins the 400m at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview London, UK

Preview: men's 400m – IAAF World Championships London 2017

Two years ago in Beijing Wayde van Niekerk appeared emotionally overwhelmed, as well as physically exhausted, after making his breakthrough at global level thanks to victory in an African record of 43.48 ahead of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic champions, LaShawn Merritt of the United States and Kirani James of Grenada.

Two years on the expectations are different as the 25-year-old South African – who won Olympic gold from the outside lane in Rio last summer in a world record of 43.03 – arrives in London as favourite.

James, sadly, is injured. Merritt, 31, is still in the frame – although perhaps not the force he was.

But Van Niekerk cannot avoid an iota of complacency given the challenge of the 30-year-old Botswana athlete currently in the form of his life, Isaac Makwala, and the emergence of the prodigious 22-year-old US college runner Fred Kerley.

On 14 July in Madrid, Makwala became the first man to run a sub-20-second 200m and sub-44-second 400m on the same day, clocking 19.77 and 43.92 respectively. A week later he ran Van Niekerk all the way to the line at the IAAF Diamond League in Monaco, clocking 43.84 before announcing that he – like Van Niekerk – would be seeking a 200m/400m double in London.

Not that Makwala is the only Motswana one-lap runner to be in with a podium chance. His 20-year-old teammate Baboloki Thebe ran a personal best of 44.02 at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, meaning their country has two of the top four 400m runners on this season’s world list.

Kerley announced himself to the wider world when he ran 43.70 at an NCAA qualifying event in May, moving to seventh on the world all-time list and turning professional shortly afterwards before winning the US Championships in 44.03.

Kerley and Thebe and another rising Motswana talent, 19-year-old Karabo Sibanda, are far from being the only young talents in the mix, however. The Bahamas’ hopes are riding on the tall – 6ft 5in – shoulders of 21-year-old Steven Gardiner, who has run 44.26 this season.

While Jamaica may be missing their national champion Javon Francis, who suffered a hamstring injury at the IAAF World Relays, they will be optimistic about the prospects of 21-year-old Nathon Allen, who has run 44.52 this season.

Meanwhile Trinidad and Tobago will be looking for another upward bound from their 21-year-old 2014 world U20 champion Machel Cedenio, who missed an Olympic medal by just one place last summer after running a personal best of 44.01 in Rio. 

And of course the US will be looking out too for the prospects of the 20-year-old who finished a place behind Kerley in the trials, the aptly-named Wilbert London III.

The European banner will be carried by Belgium’s Kevin Borlee, who leads the continental list this season with 44.79, the Czech Republic’s double world indoor champion Pavel Maslak, and Britain's Olympic finalist Matthew Hudson-Smith, who has run 44.99 this season.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF