South African smashes 400m world record


Added 15th August 2016 07:05 AM

"I crossed the line, I looked left and there was no one."

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Wayde van Niekerk put up a dizzying display to break a 17-year-old world record set by American Michael Johnson. (AFP)

"I crossed the line, I looked left and there was no one."

Wayde van Niekerk warned that the "sky was the limit" after smashing Michael Johnson's 17-year-old 400m record when he roared to Olympic gold.

"Achieving what I just did now, I think the sky's the limit. 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," said the South African.

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."

"I was blind all the way!" said van Niekerk. (AFP)



American Michael Johnson's world record had stood for 17 years until Van Niekerk smashed it. (AFP)

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.

At home for London Olympics

"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."

Bolt called Van Niekerk's performance "brilliant".

"When he got the world record it was like 'wow'," he said. "I'm really happy for him, really proud of him, he did extremely well."

Invariably, in the current doping-tainted world track and field finds itself, van Nierkerk was asked directly whether he was doping.

"I know I'm not, so what else can I say?

"You can't be everyone's favourite, but what I can do is control the controllables, just be the best athlete I can be and stay as focused as I can be."

The South African athlete said he is "really grateful to be part of this generation of athlete". (AFP)



Van Niekerk said previous world record holder Michael Johnson was one of the people who inspired him. (AFP)

Van Niekerk played down being drawn in the outside lane, saying there were pros and cons.

"I don't think any athlete really wants to be in lane eight, but when you have it, you embrace it," he said.

"It was the perfect opportunity to go out like in training and go as hard as you can," he said before adding: "It could easily have gone the opposite way but I'm just thankful for tonight."

Asked whether he'd be annoyed at Bolt getting the headlines, the South African replied: "Not at all! What he's achieved as athlete speaks for itself.

"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.

"The begininning of the year I had the opportunity to break the sub-10 (in the 100m) as well," added van Niekerk, who became the first athlete to go sub-10 in the 100, sub-20 in the 200m and sub-44 in the 400m.

"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."

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