Wayde van Niekerk douses Isaac Makwala conspiracy theories after retaining 400m title at London 2017 World Athletics Championships

 
Frank Dalleres
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Van Niekerk defended his title with impressive ease (Source: Getty)

South African Wayde van Niekerk poured cold water on conspiracy theories after his successful 400m world title defence was overshadowed by the controversial absence of one of his main rivals in London tonight.

Botswana's Isaac Makwala was prevented from running in the final on health grounds despite protesting that he felt well enough to compete - a fiasco that track great Michael Johnson said left the World Championships open to speculation of foul play.

Van Niekerk, who could win a second gold in the 200m later this week, offered sympathy to Makwala but made clear that he believed his rival to be suffering from a suspected outbreak of the norovirus that has affected at least 30 athletes.

"Obviously there are a lot of fingers being pointed right now. I just know he's ill," said Van Niekerk.

"I would have loved him to have his fair opportunity, I think he would have done very well at this championships. I even wish I could give him my medal to be honest but this is sports. It could have been any one of us.

"Yesterday I saw him just before the 200m heats and the only thing I could think of was just wrapping my arms around him and saying 'get well soon'. I wouldn't want that for any competitor.

"We all want to have the best guys on the track with us. It's such a massive pity. But he's a strong athlete, I've seen him come through a lot of challenges, and at the same time I have a lot of sympathy for him."

The row detracted from Van Niekerk's impressively routine win - silver medallist Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas was almost half a second slower - and what was meant to be his inheritance of Usain Bolt's status as the golden boy of athletics.

It also proved a huge embarrassment to governing body the IAAF, whose lack of detailed explanation for Makwala's exclusion was in contrast to the athlete's vocal dissent at the decision.

The 30-year-old was pulled from Monday's 200m heats on the instructions of a medical official from the IAAF, but said on Tuesday that, despite vomiting, he felt well enough to run.

Makwala added: "They say they are waiting for medical results but I don't know because they didn't test me. I don't have the full information about this."

He was later filmed being turned away from the practice track adjacent to the London Stadium by security guards.

Johnson said the IAAF had "got it horribly wrong one way or the other", adding: "The elephant in the room is that Van Niekerk is an IAAF favourite. Now the only challenger has been pulled out of both of those races. Conspiracy theories abound."

The outbreak has centred on the Guoman Tower Hotel, a base for several teams, near Tower Bridge, although Public Health England confirmed it had not been the source of the illness.

Irish 400m hurdler Thomas Barr was ruled out of his semi-final on Monday after falling ill, while athletes from Canada, Germany and Puerto Rico have also been hit.

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