WAYDE van Niekerk, South Africa’s Olympic champion and world record holder over 400 metres, is out to cement his status as the new superstar of world athletics by landing another gold at the World Championships in London tonight.

Billed by Usain Bolt himself as the man to inherit the Jamaican’s mantle, the 25-year-old will bid for a third straight global crown in one of the most hotly anticipated races of the championships.

“If he continues like this he’ll take over track and field,” was Bolt’s verdict earlier this summer on the first man ever to have run under 10 seconds for the 100m, under 20 seconds for 200m and under 44 for 400m.

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His 400m victory in Rio last year saw him destroy Michael Johnson’s world record, running a staggering 43.03 seconds from lane eight. He wiped out another of the American’s marks, his 300m best, in June.

He looked ominously good in booking his place in the 400m final on Sunday, barely breaking sweat in 44.22secs. Last night he eased into the 200m semis in 20.16s – with GB’s Daniel Talbot a close second.

Van Niekerk is bidding to become the first man to do the 200m/400m double at a Worlds since Johnson 22 years ago and take a title held by Bolt, not competing in the event here, since 2009.

Despite his form, though, Van Niekerk is still battling self-doubt. “I am giving myself a tougher time than I would like to,” he said.

“There are so many doubts, but at the same time so much belief, so it’s like a good and evil fighting my mind. But I will pull through, I always do. It’s a competition we need to go through to be the best and I’m up for it.”

They are contrasting characters, Bolt and Van Niekerk: the flamboyant, larger-than-life Jamaican and the softly spoken South African coached by a 75-year-old great grandmother.

Despite Bolt’s 100m farewell dominating attention so far, times never looked likely to be quick. The 400m, though, will be a different story. “I know what they can produce,” Van Niekerk said of his rivals, before saying gold would take “obviously a good 43”. That’s understating it – that time will be needed for any medal.

Botswana’s Isaac Makwala also left plenty in the tank in winning his semi in 44.30s. Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas was the fastest qualifier in a national record 43.89s, winning his semi ahead of Jamaican Nathon Allen in 44.19s.

The US’s Fred Kerley, the world’s second fastest man this year – his time of 43.70 behind only Van Niekerk’s 43.62 – could only make it through as a fastest loser.

The South African is also gunning for 200m glory in London, with the heats getting under way on Monday, bidding to become the first man to do the 200m/400m double at a Worlds since Johnson 22 years ago.

In doing so he is out to take a title that has been held by Bolt, not competing in the event here, since 2009.

It could represent a symbolic succession in more ways than one.