Editorial: Record run leaves world breathless
It may have felt like an age before South Africa grabbed their first gold medal in Rio, but Wayde van Niekerk made the wait worthwhile with his sensational 400m world record run.
Showing an extraordinary sense of timing, the 24-yearold chose none other than the Olympic final to shatter the record in front of a disbelieving capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium.
To set a world record anywhere is a mammoth achievement, but to do it in an Olympic final is the stuff legends are made of.
Running in lane eight, Van Niekerk streaked clear of the opposition to smash American Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record mark.
To put it into simple language, Van Niekerk ran the fastest single lap in the history of world athletics. Track and field legends do not come much bigger than Usain Bolt.
But even the charismatic Jamaican was left in awe by Van Niekerk’s jaw-dropping per formance. Bolt had hardly managed to regain his breath after winning the 100m final before he tore his way up the stand to congratulate an emotional Van Niekerk.
Apart from his obvious prowess on the track, the former Grey College super star has shown himself to be humble, which is a rare commodity among modern sportsmen.
Setting records is nothing new for the Cape Town-born sprinter and it should not be forgotten that he is also the first athlete ever to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, the 200m in under 20 seconds and the 400m in less than 44 seconds.
So the signs of athletics immortality were there for all to see even before he stepped onto the track for his big moment.
By setting the world record on such a big and momentous stage, Van Niekerk has guaranteed himself a special place in athletics folklore.
Normally, it is the rugby players, footballers and cricketers who hog the limelight, but Van Niekerk has now usurped all those major codes.
Judged by his showing in Rio there is plenty more gas left in the tank for this golden boy of world athletics and we look forward to many more magical moments.