MADRID, Spain -- Olympic 400-meter champion Wayde van Niekerk belatedly confirmed he will defend his title at the Tokyo Games, finishing inside the qualifying time in Madrid on Saturday.
Beset by injury since his Rio heroics five years ago, the South African ran 44.56 at the Continental Tour event at Estadio Vallehermoso to finish 0.34 seconds inside the qualifying time, although he was runner-up to Colombia's Anthony Jose Zambrano.
It was the first time the world record holder had run under 45 seconds for four years but he has barely competed since being injured in a charity touch rugby game in October 2017
Van Niekerk, who smashed Michael Johnson's 400-meter world record at the 2016 Rio Olympics to claim gold in 43.03, moved last month to train in the United States under sprint mentor Lance Brauman, who has had him concentrating on the 200 meters.
But a bid to qualify for the 200 meters in Boston last month saw him pull up before the finish line, sparking more concerns about his fitness.
Van Niekerk, however, said at the time it was only precautionary and has since told reporters he is excited and optimistic about the year.