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Bolt Saw van Niekerk’s 400m World Record Coming
- Updated: 08/17/2016
Twenty-five minutes before Usain Bolt became the first man to win the 100m consecutively over three Olympic Games, South Africa’s quarter-miler and 2015 World Champion Wayde van Niekerk destroyed the 17-year-old 400m world record set at 43.18secs by Michael Johnson in Spain in 1992.
van Niekerk entered the race as one of three main title contenders alongside Kirani James and Lashawn Merritt, and the world knew he had extraordinary talent over 400m as well as the shorter sprints. But the fact that the 24-yr-old had drawn the least-preferred outside lane because he finished second to Trinidad’s Machel Cedino in the semi-final was no indication that he could have done something major, let alone break the world record.
However, the South African, who had no other plan but to do his best, ran blindly at a blistering pace to enter the home straight with a commanding lead as James and Merritt locked strides behind him. Having clocked 20.5secs at the 200m and 31secs at 300, Van Niekerk maintained an average pace of 10.7575secs per 100m to stop the clock at 43.03.
He later explained how he ended up in the outside lane: In both his heat and semi-final races, he felt a twinge in his right hamstring at the 200m mark, which caused him to ease off the gas in both races. Those experiences, he said, placed one big question in his mind about whether his hamstring would hold up for “43 pulverizing seconds of sprinting.” And when he didn’t feel any indication of pain during the race, he advised himself against losing the opportunity and to push harder and harder.
He also expected one of his main rivals to catch him at the finish line. And so did Merritt who finished in 43.85. “He took off, I thought he would fade, but he was so far out there,” Merritt reflected. And van Niekerk’s feat was no surprise to Bolt alongside whom he trained for a number of days in Kingston this season at the invitation of Bolt’s coach, GlenMills. Bolt, he said, told him in Jamaica that he would break the world record. “After the race he came to me and said: ‘I told you.’”
Trained by a no-nonsense 74-yr-old woman, van Niekerk is the only man in history to have run below 10 seconds for 100m, below 20 seconds for 200m and sub-44 seconds for 400m.