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04 August 2016 | in Summer Universiade, Multisports, Athletics

Universiade Sprinter named RSA Olympic Flag-Bearer

CAPETOWN - The last three years have witnessed a meteoric rise for talented South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, who, from failing to qualify for the Universiade finals in 2013, is now a record-breaker, history-maker and the flag-bearer for his country at the Rio Summer Olympics.

Having originally started out as a high-jumper at school, Van Niekerk was also one of the quickest in training on the track, and decided to focus on his sprint career as a 17-year-old in 2009, taking part in his first international meet at the Under-20 World Championships in Canada in 2010.

Steady progress saw the speedster win the national 400m championships for the second time in 2013 as he qualified for the Summer Universiade in Kazan, yet was disappointed after a third-place finish in the semi-finals of the competition, posting a time of 46.39 seconds which was not fast enough to qualify for the final.

He did however taste success with his teammates in Kazan after the South African 4x400m relay contingent finished third to win the bronze medal in Russia.

Van Niekerk – who studied Marketing at the University of the Free State – did not let his personal Universiade disappointment get to him as he continued his progress, his continuous hard work and training culminating in his qualification for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing.

It was there that Van Niekerk truly announced himself to the world, mesmerising the global athletics audience with a superb 400m final run in a time of 43.48 seconds – almost three seconds quicker than his time at the Universiade – to win gold and be crowned the world 400m champion. In doing so, he broke the African record, and became the 4th-fastest athlete ever in that event.

The Cape Town-born runner’s exploits didn’t stop there, as he broke the 10-second barrier in the 100m in March this year, becoming the first sprinter in history to break 10 seconds for the 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for 400m event.

South Africa’s next superstar has been handed one of the greatest honours for his widespread success, as it was recently announced that the 24-year-old would carry the country’s flag at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in Brazil.


“It's official! World 400m champion Wayde Van Niekerk will be the Team SA flag bearer at the Olympics opening ceremony,” read a statement released by the South African Olympic authorities.

The humble and reserved Van Niekerk, who currently sits joint-top of the 2016 IAAF Diamond League 400m standings, said he was grateful to all his supporters for their kind words after the announcement, and promised to honour the national flag in Rio.

“I'm so humbled and overwhelmed by all the kind words,” he wrote on Twitter. “Thank you all. I'll carry the flag with pride.”

Van Niekerk, who will be eyeing gold in the 400m event, will begin his Olympic campaign on Saturday, 13 August in the first round of the 400m heats.

Fabio De Dominicis (RSA), U-Media Reporter