Back in March 2016 Wayde Van Niekierk from South Africa ran a sub 10 second 100m race, to make him the first athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100m, 20 seconds for the 200m and 44 seconds for 400m. On Instagram afterwards Wayde wrote “Wow! Finally reaching my dream of sub 10.” Meanwhile the former world and Olympic 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson wrote on Twitter: “Sub 10, sub 20, sub 44. That’s crazy. Great things could be ahead.”
So fast forward to August 2016 and the Rio Olympics and we shouldn’t have been surprised to see Van Niekierk not only winning the 400m gold but also smashing Michael Johnson’s world record that had stood for 17 years. The BBC reports about not only the terrific events on track with Van Niekierk race from lane 8 wowing athletes and spectators, but also about how Van Niekierk is coached by Ans Botha, a 74-year-old great-grandmother who has been coaching track and field since the 1960s. His mum Odessa was a talented athlete who competed at national level but was barred from international events under South Africa’s apartheid regime of racial segregation, which did not end until 1994. His cousin, Cheslin Kolbe, also competed in Rio as part of the bronze-medal winning South African sevens rugby team.
Interviewed after his blisteringly fast 400m Gold medal win Van Niekierk said: “I believed I could get the world record. I’ve dreamed of this medal forever,” said Van Niekerk. “I am blessed.”
He often refers to his faith in God during interviews and is a devout Christian who attributed Saturday’s success to his religion, “I am really just blessed and thankful to the Lord for this opportunity.” When interviewed before Rio about his expectations he said, ‘I always want more but it’s no use me going on my knees every race and saying “God take over and control my race”. I’ll be happy with whatever comes my way – I’m so grateful. This is a new competition but I’ll put my best foot forward. We don’t know what time will win, but I hope the time I run is the winning time.” In an interview straight after his win he said that he kneels down and prays every day, but he obviously knows that humans have free will and can’t rely on rewards from God to make things happen.