BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
“I’LL put on my best game,” he promised. And, boy, did he do just that!
Wayde Van Niekerk won the gold medal in the men’s 400m in a new world record time 43,03 seconds – smashing the great Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world mark of 43,18 seconds – at the Rio Olympic Games today.
The Olympic record of Johnson of 43,49 seconds also went for a loop.
His performance is probably the finest moment in South African sporting history.
Van Niekerk’s victory follows on the heels of his 400m world title which he won in August last year when he obliterated the field in the men’s 400m at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
Running in lane 8, he outstripped a world-class field in the Olympic stadium, including Kirani James (the 2012 London Olympic Games 400m champion) and LaShawn Merritt (the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games 400m champion). James of Grenada clocked 43,76 seconds and Merritt of the United States clocked 43,85 seconds.
Wings on his feet
Van Niekerk was in no trouble whatsoever as he ran at a tremendous pace throughout the one-lap race, leaving the “guys that inspire him” (James and Merritt) trailing in his wake down the home straight.
In the words of the commentator: “He had wings on his feet in the last 50 metres.”
A fast-finishing Van Niekerk crossed the line composed – unlike last year at the world champs where he collapsed at the winning post.
“We were all very positive about his performance,” says his ecstatic mother, Odessa Krause (Swarts). “As far as we were concerned, they all had to run 400m. You must remember, he broke the South African 400m record from an outside lane. We believed he could win from lane 8!”
After several years of hard work and talent – and blessed with the genes of his mother, Odessa, who was a sprint champion and record-holder in the late 1980s and early 1990s during apartheid in South Africa – it was just a matter of time before Van Niekerk and his coach, Anna Sophia Botha (otherwise known as Tannie Ans), worked on a training regimen that would take him to the top of the world.
The family and friends at the Games were unable to see van Niekerk on the day before his big race, as he had been preparing himself mentally for the race in the Olympic Village, which included “watching some movies”.
However, Van Niekerk was reunited with his family after his record-breaking performance, and they intend to celebrate his incredible victory on Rio’s Copacabana Beach.