Two days after van Niekerk strolled to the 400m title, Ramil Guliyev pushed him into second place in the 200m showdown. Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago claimed the bronze.
Guliyev, 27, transferred allegiance from his native Azerbaijan to Turkey six years ago and became his adopted country’s first world championship gold medallist.
“This is not a shock, but it does not feel real,” Guliyev said. “I am so proud. This title means a lot.”
Van Niekerk only reached the 200m final as one of the fastest third place finishers. In the home straight, he did not ooze his normal fluency and was unable to catch the Turk.
The South African had been trying to emulate the 200/400m double achieved by Michael Johnson of the United States at the Gothenburg world championships in 1995. The attempt had become one of the leading lines of the championships along with the retirements of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah.
Bolt’s bronze and a silver from the man anointed to fill the post Bolt vacuum have mashed up the feel good strands that had been promoted. But there were other tales to emerge from the final.
Isaac Makwala of Botswana, came back from sickness to run. Britain’s 23-year-old Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake challenged for a medal all the way down the straight before finishing fourth and Japan’s 18-year-old Abdul Hakim Sani-Brown was the youngest man to qualify for the world 200m final. It was also the first world championship men’s 100 or 200m final since 2003 not to feature a US or Jamaican medallist.
Van Niekerk’s defeat also allowed entry into the 25-year-old’s ambition. “I’d never try and fill up Usain Bolt’s shoes, neither Michael Johnson’s,” he said. “I think I’ve shown enough dominance and hard work and enough performances to start building my own image and my own brand.
“I have the utmost respect for Usain. He is one of the guys I’ve been watching for the last few years and gained inspiration from. I thank him for the great things he has done for the sport. I think this is the perfect week to honour him.”
Those comments were as slick as his title winning run in the 400 metres on Tuesday night. Even though Van Niekerk’s mission on Johnson’s achievements proved to be impossible, he emerged from the heightened scrutiny as a smooth operator with the hardware.