Wayde van Niekerk injured playing touch rugby

Reigning Olympic, world 400m champ tears ACL

(CNN) - Wayde van Niekerk, the man Usain Bolt declared would "take over" athletics in his absence, will be out of action for nearly a year after injuring himself in a celebrity touch rugby match.

South Africa's reigning Olympic and world 400-meter champion slipped and seriously damaged his knee in Cape Town early in October and now, after getting married last weekend, has undergone surgery in the US at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.

Van Niekerk suffered medial and lateral tears of the meniscus, a tear to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and requires at least six month's rehab, which will take place in the US, Qatar and back home in South Africa.

Full recovery crucial

The 25-year-old Van Niekerk will definitely miss the South African Athletics Championships in March and more importantly the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast a month later.

"I was looking forward to competing in the 100m and 200m events on the Gold Coast, and participating at the national championships in March, so this is unfortunate timing," said Van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson's 17-year-old 400m world record at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"But this is sport and these things happen. I trust that the team I have around me, including the medical professionals, will make this process as smooth as possible.

"I have faith that, God willing, I'll be able to race again later next year. Full recovery is going to be crucial, so I'll be patient, but I will work as hard as I can to get back on the track as soon as possible."

Coach not happy

Van Niekerk is famously coached by a 75-year-old great-grandmother, Ans Botha, who is reported to be less than impressed with how he picked up the injury.

"His coach wasn't happy about that [rugby match]," Van Niekerk's agent told NBC.

Botha, a former sprinter and long jumper who is known as "Auntie" to her athletes, has been instrumental in Van Niekerk's rise to the top of his game.

Under her guidance, he's won major championships, broken world records and become the only athlete to ever break 10 seconds in the 100m, 20 seconds at 200m and 44 seconds at 400m.

Bolt's successor

Van Niekerk's absence is also a major blow to the world of athletics because many were tipping the South African to become the sport's main star after the retirement of Bolt in the summer -- even the great man himself.

"He's shown he's ready for the challenge," Bolt said of Van Niekerk ahead of the Jamaican's farewell competition at the 2017 World Championships in London.

"He's really down to earth, he's a great person. He listens and wants to be good and if he continues like this he'll take over track and field."

The touch rugby game Van Niekerk was playing in on October 7 was a curtain raiser to the main event at Cape Town's Newlands Stadium, a Rugby Championship match between South Africa's Springboks and New Zealand's All Blacks.

He was playing alongside comedians, artists and other famous South African sportsmen including former international footballer, Benni McCarthy, and cricketer, JP Duminy.

Maybe stick to your own sport?

It's not the first time a high-profile sportsperson has injured themselves playing a different sport.

Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath fell victim to the perils of touch rugby in 2005 when he stood on a rogue cricket ball at Edgbaston, twisted an ankle and ended up missing most of the Ashes series against England.

Golfer Rory McIlroy was forced to sit out the 2015 British Open after rupturing ankle ligaments during a football kickabout with friends, while Phil Mickelson could not play the 1994 Masters because he broke his leg skiing.

Fellow golfers Ernie Els and Darren Clarke have both been forced to take time out after picking up injuries on the tennis court and, although he's not a pro golfer, former US goalkeeper Kasey Keller accidentally knocked his teeth out taking his golf clubs out of the car.

Ex Formula One driver Mark Webber broke his leg in a bicycle accident ahead of the 2009 season and he drove the final four races of the 2010 season with a broken shoulder he sustained in another bike crash.

In 2015, former England football captain Wayne Rooney appeared to be knocked unconscious by his friend and former teammate, Phil Bardsley, during a lighthearted boxing sparring session at home in his kitchen.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, suffered a horrific open dislocation of his ankle when bouncing on a trampoline with his son and lost so much blood that there was initially a concern for his life. Thankfully he did make a full recovery and returned to play baseball.

But perhaps the most bizarre incident involves 1970s Norway international footballer, Sven Grondalen, who injured himself by running into a moose whilst out jogging in the forest and missed a World Cup qualification match as a result.

Van Niekerk is not alone but he may think twice about signing up to any more celebrity touch rugby games in the future.


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