With the Athletics World Championships currently taking place in Oregon, fans are revelling in watching the world’s best athletes compete at the highest level.
The Olympic Games is undoubtedly the pinnacle of athletics, but the World Championships are not too far behind. It is also the best dress rehearsal that athletes can get for the Olympics, which will be hosted in Paris in 2024.
One man who will be looking for a strong performance at the spectacle in Oregon is Wayde van Niekerk. The South African 400m runner is the current world record holder in the event, having broken Michael Johnson’s longstanding record at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Van Niekerk had the run of his life in that summer in Brazil. To break a record that had stood for 17 years is a remarkable achievement and one that left spectators in awe of what they had just seen.
It wasn’t just spectators that were left stunned, however.
In the video, Jamaican sprinters Bolt and Blake’s reactions are that of sheer amazement. It appears from the footage that the pair may have missed the race itself, but were reacting to the scoreboard which showed Van Niekerk had toppled Johnson’s record.
Van Niekerk flew out of the blocks and was imperious from start to finish. Just as it looked as though he may lose ground going into the home straight, the South African found another level and kicked on to open up the gap between himself and the chasing pair of Kirani James and LaShawn Merrit.
Prior to that fateful run in the 400m men’s Olympic final, Johnson’s record had never really been troubled. Van Niekerk didn’t just beat it, he smashed it. With a time of 43:03, he beat Johnson’s record of 43:18 by one 15th of a second. Whilst this sounds like fine margins, in a sprint event, this is not an insignificant amount.
How did he do it? Well, the now 30-year-old, ran the opening 200 metres in 20.5 seconds and the closing 200 metres in 22.5 seconds. Incredibly, the 100-metre-long section from the 100m to 200m mark of the race was completed in just 9.8 seconds; a time that would likely see you do well in an Olympic men’s 100m final.
All the more impressive was the fact that, prior to Van Niekerk’s gold medal run, no one had ever won a men’s 400m final in either the Olympic Games or World Championships having started the race in lane eight.
The 2016 triumph remains Van Niekerk’s only Olympic gold medal. Having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in 2017, and undergoing extensive rehabilitation, Van Niekerk failed to qualify for the men’s 400m final in Tokyo last year.
He has made the final of the World Championships this summer, though, and will be keen to return to former glories by getting gold.
After Johnson’s record stood for 17 years, how long will Van Niekerk’s stand?