South Africa had to wait for their first gold medal of the Rio Olympic Games until the 10th day of the competition, but the manner in which it came made the wait well worth it. Wayde van Niekerk blitzed his way to the 400m gold medal early yesterday morning in Rio de Janeiro in spectacular fashion, in a world record time.
The 400m world champion crossed the line in 43.03, beating American sprinter Michael Johnson’s 17-year record of 43.18 set in Seville, Spain. Many pundits thought Johnson’s record would never fall. Van Niekerk, who turned 24 last month, said he was hungry for more success.
“Achieving what I just did now, I think the sky’s the limit. There’s no way I’m going to limit myself. I’m just going to try and better myself each and every time I race,” he said.
His dramatic win took South Africa’s medal tally to seven, and more importantly, gave the country their first gold of the Games following their five silver medals and the Blitzboks’ lone bronze. South Africa’s silvers have come from swimmers Chad le Clos, who grabbed two, and Cameron van der Burgh, long jumper Luvo Manyonga and the men’s rowing pair of Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling.
It’s the first time since the 1952 Helsinki Games that South Africa has managed seven or more medals at the Olympics. “I have never seen anything like that,” Johnson said. “It is amazing. That was a massacre by Van Niekerk.”
This young man has done something truly special. “He could go under 43 seconds – I tried and failed.”
Team SA is aiming for 10 medals in total. If the other athletes take a leaf from Van Niekerk’s book, there’s no reason why the tally cannot be achieved by the close of the Games on Sunday.
They just need to look to Van Niekerk’s heroic run for inspiration.