CAPE TOWN, August 26 – Wayde van Niekerk conquered the world on Wednesday when he left a stellar 400 metre finals field floundering in his slipstream to capture South Africa’s first gold medal in scintillating fashion at the 2015 IAAF World Championship in Beijing, China.
It looked like it dawned on him some 20 metres out from the finish that the gold medal was within reach as he flashed a faint smile. It would have been an incredible feeling knowing that he was leading home some of the world’s greatest in the medal race in a time of 43.48 seconds that proved to be the fastest this year, and fourth fastest man in history for the one-lap 400m dash.
America’s LaShawn Merritt, the gold-medal winner at the 2008 Olympics and 2013 World Championships, finished in 43.65 for second place. Merritt (lane 8) would have had to draw on a super-human effort if he were to catch Van Niekerk (lane 6) who had emerged some five metres ahead him by the time they entered the 100m straight in the Bird’s Nest.
After a blistering start, Van Niekerk steadily opened the gap between himself and the celebrated Grenadian sprinter Kirani James (lane 5) who lined up as the Commonwealth Games champion and 2012 Olympic Games gold medal winner. James clocked 43.78 for a third place and looked decidedly shocked at the end.
Van Niekerk’s phenomenal performance made for a finish in which all the medallists finished under 44 seconds, the first time this has ever happened.
After his semi-final race, earlier this week, Van Niekerk said he was there to win a medal.
Not many would have believed it could happen in what would be Van Niekerk’s first world senior championships final.
The world record is held by American Michael Johnson in a time of 43.18, set in Seville, southern Spain, in September 1999.
Given Van Niekerk’s winning time of 43.48, he came within a whisker of improving on the world’s third best time held by American Jeremy Wariner, who clocked 43.45. Behind Johnson, is another American Harry ‘Butch’ Reynolds who has a time of 43.29 to his credit.
Some 10 minutes after he crossed the finish line Van Niekerk collapsed and had to be stretchered off for medical attention later left the Bird’s Nest in an ambulance.
South African team leader Pieter Lourens said: “Van Niekerk is OK. It’s exhaustion. They are taking him to hospital for observation.”
Earlier the 200m semi-finals raised some cheer for Mzansi fans as Anaso Jobodwana, one lane inside Usain Bolt, finished a close second in a PB of 20.01. Jobodwana looked like he was running well within himself once he was resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to haul in Bolt, while securing a second-place finish. His time was third best overall
Bolt clocked a season’s best of 19.95, the first time he has run faster than 20 seconds in a global championships semi-final.
Jobodwana’s teammate Akani Simbine finished sixth in an earlier semifinal and that brought his challenge to an end.
Wenda Nel finished seventh in the women’s 400m hurdles final.