Envy and disrespect swirled around South Africa’s champion athlete Wayde van Niekerk and his younger teammate Clarence Munyai this week.
Van Niekerk, 25, successfully defended his world 400m title on Tuesday at the World Athletics Championships in London and won silver in the 200m on Thursday night. Munyai, 19, was disqualified from the 200m on Monday after stepping out of his lane during the heats.
On Friday, Munyai and Van Niekerk took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with one another. Munyai appeared to suggest that Botswana sprinter Isaac Makwala could have beaten Van Niekerk in the 400m final – if he’d been allowed to compete.
Makwala was placed under quarantine following an outbreak of gastroenteritis at his hotel. He was prevented from entering the London Olympic Stadium for the 400m.
This prompted former 400m world and Olympic champion Michael Johnson to remark that the world athletics governing body, IAAF, had conspired to keep Makwala out of the event to protect Van Niekerk.
“Makwala is the man”, “Makwala is literally a boss”, Munyai tweeted on Thursday night before the 200m final.
Makwala was allowed to qualify for the 200m final via a time trial and ran sixth.
Van Niekerk responded to Munyai’s tweet, in the hours leading up to the final, with a GIF (graphics interchange format) that said: “Okay.” Munyai responded: “Let’s not underestimate each other now.”
Afterwards, an emotional Van Niekerk took an apparent dig at the younger athlete.
“I definitely feel that I might have contributed in a way to inspiring so much track and field athletes in South Africa,” said Van Niekerk. “I just wish they can be a bit more patient and respect the process as well and realise it’s not a process that’s a walk in the park. “You need to take it step by step and learn from your experiences and take it from there.
Van Niekerk said the young athletes coming through the ranks now had it easier than his generation. “We had to fight for where we [got] to and now they’ve got a bit of a loophole … they need to appreciate the position they’re in now and I think we stand a good chance to produce many more world champions and track and field greats.”
Munyai, known in athletics circles as a temperamental character, later tweeted: “There is no such thing as friends, they never want you to be better than them.”
A team official said no action had been taken, saying they were unaware of the Twitter comments.
During the interview, Van Niekerk also said he felt disrespected by Makwala, who agreed with Johnson that he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Van Niekerk dismissed Makwala’s assertion that the IAAF had unfairly quarantined him with a sickness bug to pave the way for Van Niekerk to take 400m gold.
“It really did upset me a bit because I have always shown him massive respect and for him to mention my name in something fishy, as an IAAF favourite, is unfair,” said Van Niekerk.
“I’ve been putting out great performances for the last two years, so I think I deserve way more respect from my competitors.
“I want to compete and I’m not here to make friends, so I learned a great lesson: to focus on myself and not letting negative things affect me.”