BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
WAYDE van Niekerk, the son of former SA female sprint champion Odessa Krause Swarts, has obliterated the field in the men’s 400m at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing today.
His winning time is a world lead of 43,48 seconds, and South Africa’s first gold medal at the championships.
It was an absolutely terrific performance by the 23-year-old South African.
Van Niekerk, drawn in lane six, did not give the field a chance – none whatsoever – as he propelled himself out of the block and stormed round the first bend, catching Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic in lane 7 in no time.
Meanwhile, Kirani James of Grenada, in lane 5, was lagging further behind on the back straight. It was only LaShawn Merritt, in lane 8, who had kept up the pace – or so it seemed – until about the last 120m.
At this stage, Van Niekerk was still firing on all cylinders as he hit the home straight, going away from his perennial rivals James and Merritt. You would have sworn that Van Niekerk had run the 200m as he flew across the winning line, consumed by exhaustion, to a new world lead time of 43,48. He was followed by Merritt in 43,65 and James in 43,78. Santos came fourth in 44,11.
In a class of his own
It is the first race in history in which three athletes broke 44 seconds.
Van Niekerk had beaten the best. All the top athletes who mattered were there, and all four of them – Van Niekerk, Merritt, James and Santos – recorded their personal bests.
Van Niekerk’s winning time is also a new African record: he beat Isaac Makwala of Botswana’s African record time of 43,72 secs. (Makwala was out of the medals in the final.)
Van Niekerk is now the fourth fastest athlete at this distance behind Michael Johnson (43,18), Butch Reynolds (43,29) and Jeremy Wariner (43,45), all of the United States.
In the words of the sports commentator: “He was in a class of his own . . . we’ve got to give credit to the young South African.”
Like mother, like son
Van Niekerk’s rise to the top of 400m athletics was in the making.
After several years of hard work and talent – and blessed with the genes of his mother, Odessa Krause Swarts, 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.
“I’m just so grateful that God has blessed him with an amazing talent,” his proud mother Odessa Krause Swarts told Athletics Clipboard. “When I share my testimony I can only thank Our Father that he has given Wayde all the opportunities that I did not get to live, as it was not meant for me and many athletes before me. I was meant to be the mother of a new generation that is destined to take South Africa to the next level of athletics. He gets to live the life that was meant for him and I get to share the joy that comes with it. I believe I could have become one of South Africa’s greatest had I gotten all the opportunities that Wayde has, but it was not in God’s plan for me,” she said.
Odessa Krause is married to Steven Swarts, himself an athlete who had been coached by his wife’s former teammate, Tobias Philander of the Elsie’s River Amateur Athletics Club in Cape Town. They now live in Bloemfontein, South Africa.