Wayde van Niekerk pulled off one of the most spectacular pieces of sprinting in history on Sunday night, breaking Michael Johnson’s long-standing 400m world record to win the Olympic title in breathtaking fashion.
Drawn in the far outside lane eight with every one of his rivals inside him, the South African world champion made a mockery of being forced to run blind, leading from the outset and powering down the home straight to finish in 43.03 seconds.
Johnson’s record of 43.18 had remained unchallenged for 17 years, with Van Niekerk the only man outside of the United States to come within half a second of it.
As was the case at last summer’s World Championships, reigning Olympic champion Kirani James had no answer to the 24-year-old South African and had to settle for silver in 43.76sec – the second-fastest time of his life. American LaShawn Merritt took bronze in 43.85sec.
Already the only man in history to run sub-10 seconds over 100m, sub-20 seconds over 200m and sub-44 seconds over 400m, victory for Van Niekerk caps an incredible rise to the top of international sprinting since he finished second at the Commonwealth Games two years ago.
“I have never seen anything from 200m to 400m like that,” said Johnson.
“He may well have run faster in the second 200m, than in the first. That was a massacre from Wayde van Niekerk. He just put those guys away.
“LaShawn Merritt was shaking his head, thinking ‘I can’t do anything with that’.
“That was some style to break the world record. Just like watching Usain Bolt break the (200m) world record (in 2009), being a fan of the sport, it is incredible to watch.
“I will be OK and life will go on, but Wayde van Niekerk will wake up tomorrow knowing he has done it, and I know that feeling. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure and it was always going to take a fast time.
“Now he will be trying to get under 43 seconds and that will be tough. He will always go in with a target on his back now. People asked me how long they thought my record would last and you never know. It is always a joy to see a world record broken.”
As one star was born, another faded with Christine Ohuruogu hinting that she has run the final individual race of her career after failing to make the 400m final in Rio.
Ohuruogu, a double world champion and silver medalist at London 2012, has struggled in recent years and could only finish fifth in her semi-final in Rio before suggesting that the time has come to retire with her best years behind her.
“I thought after the first round that the old Christine was back, but I think she only paid a fleeting visit,” said the 32-year-old. “She’s gone
“Even if I do stop tomorrow, my body is still in good nick. I could still train if I wanted to – I just don’t think I want to. I feel like I need a break.”