Looking to claim his third world title to go with his Olympic crown, Van Niekerk battled down the final straight in balmy conditions as he crossed the line a time of 44.65 seconds. He finished behind Antonio Watson of Jamaica who in in 44.13, with the American powering past Van Niekerk at the finish to clock 44.26.
The heat saw Van Niekerk drawn in lane eight, which was not ideal, but also the same lane in which he produced his world record 43.03 to win gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. This time, however, he was unable to produce something spectacular.
Despite missing out on an automatic qualifying spot up for the first two positions, Van Niekerk scraped through to the final as a fastest non-automatic qualifier.
Van Niekerk will now line up in the final on Thursday at 9.35pm.
This season, Van Niekerk has been back to his best as he has lifted his world ranking back to number one. However, as an Olympic champion and world record holder - higher expectations are always demanded of the star athlete.
Van Niekerk is no spring chicken in athletics terms any more, now aged 31 and having also lost a good chunk of his peak years while recovering from a serious knee injury in 2017. Those facts will not be on his mind though, as his sole focus will now be on reclaiming his World Championship crown.
A strong performance at these World Championships, will do a lot for Van Niekerk’s confidence heading to the Paris Olympics next year. Realistically, given Van Niekerk’s age, 2024 will be Van Niekerk’s last shot at bagging another Olympic gold.
Zakithi Nene competed in heat three of the men’s 400m, but was unable to advance as he finished sixth in a time of 45.64.
Earlier, Marione Fourie and Taylon Bieldt were were in action in the women’s 100m heats. Fourie advanced in heat one, finishing third in a time of 12.71. Bieldt in heat three, crashed out after finishing seventh in 13.05. Later, Zeney van der Walt bowed out in the women’s 400m hurdles semi-finals after finishing eighth in a time of 55.49 in heat two.
With countryman Akani Simbine disqualified in the men’s 100m semi-final heats over the weekend, it leaves Van Niekerk as South Africa’s last genuine medal hope.