Athletics 15.8.2016 06:31 am

Van Niekerk breaks 400m world record

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa wins the mens 400m final and sets a new world record of 43.03 seconds during the evening session on Day 9 Athletics of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa wins the mens 400m final and sets a new world record of 43.03 seconds during the evening session on Day 9 Athletics of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

Wayde van Niekerk produced the best performance by a South African athlete in half a century in the early hours of Monday morning.

Starting in lane eight, Van Niekerk charged out the blocks and held the lead from start to finish in the men’s 400m final at the Rio Olympics, shattering the world record to secure the gold medal in 43.03 seconds.

The 24-year-old speedster, who won the world title last year, chopped 0.15 off the 17-year-old global mark previously held by American star Michael Johnson.

Defending champion Kirani James of Grenada took second place in 43.76, and Beijing 2008 champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States ended third in 43.85.

“I was so scared someone was going to catch me I just kept pushing and pushing, and at the end I just dove for the line,” Van Niekerk said.

While James had lined up as the favourite, after dominating the earlier rounds, he was unable to put up a fight against the South African.

“He just kept going and going, and never slowed down, but I’m proud of Wayde’s accomplishment and so proud to be a part of history,” James said.

Van Niekerk became the first SA athlete to set a world record in an Olympic track event since Paul Nash clocked 10.0 in the men’s 100m dash in 1968.

While Danie Malan set a global mark in the men’s 1 000m contest in 1973, the race is not an Olympic event.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in front of the board showing his new world record in the mens 400m (43.03 seconds) during the evening session on Day 9 Athletics of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 14: Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in front of the board showing his new world record in the mens 400m (43.03 seconds) during the evening session on Day 9 Athletics of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)

 

Shortly after the 400m dash, Van Niekerk waited at the side of the track to watch good friend Akani Simbine in the men’s 100m final.

Simbine produced an impressive performance, taking fifth place in 9.94, with Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt earning his third straight title in the short dash in 9.81.

Bolt, who trained with the duo in Kingston earlier this year, had given Simbine a hug while the SA record holder was waiting to see if he had progressed beyond the 100m semifinals, and also went up to Van Niekerk to congratulate him after his record performance.

 

Initial story: August 15, 5.38am:

Starting in lane eight, Van Niekerk charged out the blocks and held the lead from start to finish in the men’s 400m final at the Rio Olympics, shattering the world record to secure the gold medal in 43.03 seconds.

The 24-year-old speedster, who won the global title last year, chopped 0.15 off the 17-year-old global mark held by American star Michael Johnson.

Defending champion Kirani James of Grenada took second place in 43.76.

“I was so scared someone was going to catch me I just kept pushing and pushing, and at the end I just dove for the line,” Van Niekerk said.

He became the first SA athlete to set a world record in an Olympic track event since Paul Nash clocked 10.0 in the men’s 100m dash in 1968.

While Danie Malan set a global mark in the men’s 1 000m contest in 1973, the race is not an Olympic event.

Van Niekerk earned South Africa’s seventh medal, and first gold, at the Rio Games.

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