2.WAYDE VAN NIEKERK
South Africa’s Van Niekerk is an enigma any day! While the Athletics world was still trying to come to terms with his exploits at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing where he won the 400m with a scorching time of 43.48s, propelling him to No.4 on the all-time list, the quartermiler struck again, but this time around it was at the Estádio Olímpico in Brazil.
He began 2016 by smashing his Personal Best (PB) in the 100m, setting a new time of 9.98s at the Free State Championships in Bloemfontein in March, becoming the first man in history to run faster than 10s in 100m, 20s in the 200m and 44s in the 400m. The South African did not run in too many races this year and competed only in one Diamond League meeting.
At the 2016 African Senior Championships held in Durban, he opted for the half lap, and went on to win the African title in 20.02s, leading to insinuations that he would attempt the 200m/400m double in Rio. However, while speaking with reporters afterwards, the 24-year old stated that he was only going for the 400m at the Olympics.
When asked if he would be attempting the World Record (WR) in Brazil, Van Niekerk didn’t give away too much. Drawn in Lane 8 in the final, it was expected that the race would be a close one, with defending champion Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt included in the mix. This time around, Van Niekerk did not wait until he approached the bend before accelerating.
The sprinter took off at the sound of the gun, and would later confess that he ran a ‘blind’ race, as his rivals were out of his visual range. Having established a considerable lead, he sped to the finishing line, erasing Michael Johnson’s 17-year old World Record (WR) of 43.18s and replacing it with an astonishing 43.03s, becoming the first South African since 1928 to win an Olympic GOLD medal in Track and Field.
Van Niekerk said: “I think it could be a good testimony to other athletes who want to play the game clean. I thought you had to use something to run a sub-44, and look where I am today. And I’ve done it clean and I’ve done it simply by pure hard work and dedication. If I can be a testimony, I think anyone else can do it. Bolt came to me after the race and told me, ‘I told you you could do it!’ It’s really a special moment.”