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18 August 2016 | in Summer Universiade, Athletics

Universiade Semi-Finalist to Olympic Gold Medallist



RIO DE JANEIRO - Three years ago, on the track at the Central Stadium in Kazan at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Russia, Wayde van Niekerk and his South African teammates achieved bronze in the 4x400m relay. The then 21-year-old had come third in the semi-finals of his individual 400m race, failing to post a time fast enough to qualify for the final.

Now the very same Wayde van Niekerk is an Olympic gold medallist and the new world record holder!

The Cape Town-born runner lined up in the outside lane of the packed Olympic Stadium for the Final of the 400m event at this year’s Rio Olympics and literally never looked back, getting off to an impressive start and continuing his explosive speed until the finish as he crossed the line in a blistering 43.03 seconds, breaking American great Michael Johnson’s 17-year record in the process.

And with it, a new South African hero was created.

Praise has poured in from around the globe following Van Niekerk’s amazing feat, with previous record-holder Johnson himself, who was commentating on the race for BBC, in utter shock.

"Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record," Johnson said on the BBC. "He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that."

Van Niekerk – who studied Marketing at the University of the Free State – is known for his humble, reserved and grounded approach, and was quick to heap praise on his opponents despite being the victor himself. "There are guys who have inspired me, Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, they're amazing guys and I've learnt from them,” the 24-year-old said after his race. “Even the guys I've run against today, Kirani James and Laswhan Merrit, they're guys who inspire me. I'm still amazed just being here among all these great athletes. In the last Olympics in London, I was sitting at home watching these guys do their thing and today I'm in the mix with them and have the opportunity to run my best performance. I'm just really grateful to be part of this generation of athletes and keeping this sport alive."

Crowd favourite Usain Bolt won the 100m twenty minutes after Van Niekerk’s race, yet when asked if he was annoyed that his limelight was stolen by the Jamaican, Van Niekerk was quick to brush aside any such thoughts.

"Not at all! What he's achieved as an athlete speaks for itself,” he said. "It's Usain Bolt, the king of 100 and 200m. I'm just grateful for being here and I'm going to try to build my legacy as concrete as I can. I'm just trying to decorate my achievements as an athlete as much as I can and put my right foot forward each time I hit the track."

Van Niekerk, who was South Africa’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games, feels that the sky is the limit now after his earth-shattering achievement.

"Achieving what I just did now, I think the sky's the limit,” he said. “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.”

Fabio De Dominicis (RSA), U-Media Reporter