Twenty-four-year-old Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa smashed a 17-year-old world record in the Olympics men’s 400m event on Sunday night. He was only six years old when legendary American sprinter Michael Johnson set the previous world record in Seville, Spain, in 1999.
On Sunday night, August 14 in Rio de Janeiro, van Niekerk was even more spectacular as he became the first man to win an Olympic 400m race from the outside lane. Running from lane 8, he finished the men’s 400m finals from lane 8 in just 43.03 seconds. Van Niekerk had outdone his fellow contestants and in the process, shaved off a massive (in athletic terms) 0.15 seconds from Johnson’s 43.18-second record.
As he raced into a clear lead for gold, he left behind all competitors including London 2012 Gold medallist Kirani James of Grenada, who came second place, and U.S. sprinter LaShawn Merritt, who was champion at the Beijing Games in 2008 but settled for the Bronze medal in Rio.
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Speaking of the race, an exhilarated van Niekerk said, “I was running blind all the way,” adding that. “I thought someone was going to catch me – what’s going on, what’s going on, and it gave me motivation to keep on pushing.”
Van Niekerk later said of his win: “I have dreamed of this since I was a kid. I believed it was possible. I am just glad things went my way. I thank Michael Johnson for setting such a great example for us. I just did my best.”
Former record holder Michael Johnson was, in turn, quick to congratulate van Niekerk, describing his performance as a “massacre.”
“Oh my God!” Johnson said. “From lane eight, a world record. 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.”
Johnson also said he considers Niekerk good enough to become the next Usain Bolt when the world record holder quits the tracks, as he plans to do in the near future.
Van Niekerk’s win at the 400m event is South Africa’s first gold medal of the Rio Games; however, they have won other medals at Rio, including thr bronze in the rugby sevens event.