Van Niekerk
Van Niekerk

In what is arguably the greatest ever 400m race, South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk added the Olympic title to his 2015 world championship crown in stunning fashion. The Olympic record 43.49 seconds set by Michael Johnson stood for 20 years and the world record of 43.18 seconds has been around from 1999.

Earlier in the rounds it was evident that the final in Rio was always going to be one of the most difficult to make. And so it proved after the completion of the semi-finals. Imagine someone running 44.65 seconds as American Gil Roberts did and failing to get in. All eight finalists went in with personal bests faster than 44.50 seconds.

Defending Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada looked awesome in advancing from his semi-final winning in 44.02 seconds the second fastest time this season. He defeated world leader LaShawn Merritt 44.21 who was in his semi-final.

World champion Wayde Van Niekerk (44.45) from South Africa and 2014 world junior champion Machel Cedenio (44.39) of Trinidad & Tobago had also impressed while easing through their semi-final heat.

The lane assignments in the final made the contest more intriguing. Machel Cedenio was drawn behind the big guns in lane three. Kirani James occupied lane five just inside LaShawn Merritt drawn in six with world champion Wayde Van Niekerk out in lane eight.

World and Olympic records shattered

As the starter’s gun sent them off it was Niekerk in lane eight who went out like a steam train. James and Merritt tried in vain to keep pace but the South African was running with a sense of purpose at a world record pace. Many persons thought he would run out of steam but he kept going like the energizer bunny.

Niekerk came of the curve with two-metre lead on James and Merritt who were clearly stunned at the way in which Niekerk kept eluding them with each stride and opening up a wider gap. It was at this stage everyone realized that Niekerk was no longer racing his rivals but a new competitor – the stadium clock.

When Niekerk crossed the finish line and the screen showed – 43.03 seconds – many persons were left dumbstruck for a little more than 43 seconds. Nobody could believe it. In one moment of magic the great Michael Johnson was displaced from the record books.

“I believed I could get the world record,” said Van Niekerk. “I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever. I am blessed.”

He continued “These are guys that inspired me: Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, I learned from them, and even the guys that ran against me today, LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James, these are guys that inspired me.”
Perhaps Niekerk can be credited for other records tumbling behind him. The three men who finished 4th, 5th and 6th respectively – Cedenio (44.01), Sibanda (44.25) and Khami (44.36) – all produced lifetime bests. It is worth mentioning that Sibanda of Botswana who recently won bronze at the U20 championships in Poland, by virtue of his run today in Rio now becomes the third fastest junior athlete of all-time behind Steve Lewis and his countryman Baboloki Thebe.
Kirani James who won the silver medal ran a season’s best 43.76 just 0.02 shy off his PB. His long-time nemesis LaShawn Merritt also ran a season’s best 43.85 seconds for the bronze.

The forlorn look on Merritt’s face at the end of the race summed up his disappointment. Upon reflection even he would readily admit that he would have needed the assistance of wheels to run that time.


  1. With this Niekerk surpassed Bolt. The 400m was the far harder record to break than the 200m. And Niekerk can probably get below 43 seconds were Bolt looks completely spend he never will be able to go below 19s in 200m


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