The battle is on, Van Niekerk, James, Merritt, 300 meters, photo by PhotoRun.net
Wayde Van Niekerk breaks WR in 43.03!
As the three kings of the 400 meters came off the turn, Wayde Van Niekerk had a slight lead. Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt were dueling, as Wayne Van Niekerk continued to drive down the final straight, going where no man has gone before. Leaving at the tape, Van Niekerk ran 43.03, breaking the 1999 world record of Micheal Johnson, of 43.18, set in Sevilla in 1999. I feel lucky to have seen them both.
Wayde Van Niekerk, Kirani James, LaShawn Merritt, photo by PhotoRun.net
Kirani James, the 2012 Olympic champion, took the silver in 43.76, with 2008 Olympic champion, LaShawn Merritt, taking bronze in 43.85. Michel Cedenio, TTO, took fourth in 44.01, NR.
Ironically, Maurice Greene, Sydney 2000 gold at 100m and I were discussing Wayde Van Niekerk today. Maurice said that Wayde Van Niekerk could get the WR because he would give his all.
Below is how I put the record in perspective.
In Sevilla, in 1999, Micheal Johnson ran the fastest 300 meters I had ever seen. One problem, it was in the semi final of the 400 meters for the World Championships. Clyde Hart, the coach of Micheal Johnson, had him jog in from 300 meters. The time was a low 44 point 400 meters.
In the final, Micheal Johnson came off the turn, running by himself and ran through the finish, running 43.18! The crowd went crazy. Micheal was spent, and for much of the next year, he tried to recover from the major effort. Eventually, he put his form back together, and won the 400 meters in Sydney in 2000. But that record took alot out of him.
Last year, when Wayde Van Niekerk won the World Championships, he had pulled so much out of himself, he collapsed, and was sent to the hospital for tests and observation. He said later to me, in an interview in June 2016, that the 400 meters take alot out of him.
Wayde Van Niekerk has run sub 10 seconds for the 100 meters, sub 20 seconds for the 200 meters, and sub 44 seconds for the 400 meters. No one else in the world has done those three performancesHis height and middle distance body give him an endurance base that helps him in all of his speed races. When I asked Wayde about his favorite races, he said, ” The 200 meters, but the 400 meters is my best race. It just takes alot out of me! “
In the semi finals in Rio, Kirani James ran 44.02. LaShawn Merritt, running in the same semi final, ran 44.21. In the second semi-final, Michel Cedenio ran 44.39, Wayde Van Niekerk ran 44.45. And in the final 400 meter semi-final on Saturday, Bralon Taplin ran 44.44 and Mathew Hudson-Smith ran 44.8, with Ali Khamis Khamis ran 44.49 NR.
For some, the suspicion was a World Record.
In the final, Wayde Van Niekerk was in lane 8. The race went out very fast, as Kirani James, the 2012 Olympic champion, went out hard. LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, coming off his 400 meter victory at the U.S. Olympic Trials and second place in the 200 meters, was tremendously focused and came through the 200 meters the fastest. Wayde Van Niekerk runs the race in sections, and from the 8th lane, Wayde went out very hard. Coming back 200 meters, between 200 and 300 meters, Van Niekerk flew, coming off the turn in the lead, and motored away first from Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt.
Wayde Van Niekerk came off the turn just focued and running down the final straightway. For most humans, sprinting all out lasts about 30-35 seconds. After that, the lactic acid fills up the muscles with so much junk, most humans would just stop movement, as their legs are just not functioning.
Not so the 400 meter specialist.
Most 400 meter specialists try to find ways to save some momentum and energy for the last 100 meters. Micheal Johnson broke the race into four distinct sections, and confident in his training and racing, would stay on plan with Clyde Hart and stay confident with those workouts.
Wayde Van Niekerk is a unique specimen. His leg speed over 100 meters, makes the last 100 meters of the 400 meters seem annoying, but not mystifying.
Running the last 100 meters faster than he ever has before, in front of a large crowd that would tell everyone that they saw this guy from South Africa blow off the World Record, Wayde Van Niekerk succeeded at something that the best the 400 meters had to offer for nineteen years, breaking the current WR of Micheal Johnson.
With the speed and strength that Micheal Johnson hinted of, Wayde Van Niekerk took the 400 meters into a new world, and ran 43.03.
Just before the race, I asked Maurice Greene what made Wayde Van Niekerk so special. “First of all, the guy is tough. Wayde ran so hard in Beijing that he collapsed. He was willing to push like no one else. That is why he can get the World record.”
Well, Wayde did it in Rio de Janiero, he rewrote the 400 meter record books.
43.03 it is.
Forty three seconds, and oh three.
A race for the ages.
Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt battled over the last 50 meters all by themselves. James took the silver in 43.76 and Merritt ran 43.85 for the bronze.
A race, again, for the ages.