Wayde van Niekerk has set a new men’s 400m world record of 43.03 second, winning South Africa’s first gold medal at Rio 2016, and smashing Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400m record.
The 24-year-old, running in the unfavoured lane eight, blasted off the final corner to time 43.03sec, 0.15sec quicker than Johnson’s previous world best set in Seville in 1999, a record that had taken on an almost mythical status.
“I can’t even tell you what happened in the race, I was blind all the way!” van Niekerk said.
“As I got to the finish line, I was expecting one of them to catch me. “I crossed the line, I looked left and there was no one. “I felt very alone at the end, and I thought ‘what’s going on?’ That gave me motivation to keep pushing. I still have to pinch myself on what just happened.”
Van Niekerk said he had taken inspiration from silver and bronze medallists Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt, as well as Johnson and Jamaican Usain Bolt, who claimed his third successive 100m gold straight after the South African.
The two gold medallists embraced on the track of the Olympic Stadium in what Van Nierkerk said was a poignant moment for him.
“There are guys who have inspired me, Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, they’re amazing guys and I’ve learnt from them. Even the guys I’ve run against today, Kirani James and Laswhan Merrit, they’re guys who inspire me,” he said.
Bolt called Van Niekerk’s performance “brilliant”.