South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk not only won the Olympic gold medal in the men’s 400 metres, he smashed U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record in spectacular fashion Sunday night in Rio.
Van Niekerk won in 43.03 seconds, beating Johnson’s 43.18 record from 1999, and in the process dethroning defending Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada who won silver in 43.76. American Lashawn Merritt won bronze in 43.85.
“I believed I could get the world record,” van Niekerk told reporters. “I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever. I am blessed.”
“He just wouldn’t slow down,” added James. “Usually guys slow down a bit in the last hundred but he just kept going. When you keep going like that obviously a world record is going to fall.”
van Niekerk burst out of the blocks in lane eight and never relinquished his lead, upping his pace at the 200-mark, much to the delight of the now former world record holder.
“Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record,” Johnson said on the BBC. “He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that. That was a massacre from Wayde van Niekerk. He just put those guys away.”
Making the win even more impressive is van Niekerk running in lane eight, where he couldn’t see his competitors ahead of him to gauge their pace.
“I thought someone was going to catch me,” van Niekerk said. “I felt very alone at the end.”
And while a world record performance would surely grab headlines on any other night, Sunday night belonged to Usain Bolt and his historic 100m gold medal performance — the significance of which wasn’t lost on van Niekerk.
“It’s Usain Bolt, the king of the 100 and 200,” Van Niekerk said. “I’m just grateful for being here. Just trying to build my legacy.”
Bolt and van Niekerk do have a connection, though, as the South African has spent time in Jamaica working with Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills. The relationship was enough for Bolt to seek out van Niekerk during his own victory celebration to congratulate him.
“When he came to Jamaica, I said to him, ‘You’re the only person who can break the 400-meter record,”‘ Bolt said of van Niekerk. “He’s very fast and keeps on going. To me, I wasn’t really surprised he got it.”
[Source: Rio 2016]