South African running sensation Wayde van Niekerk, 24, made a name for himself on the global stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio by winning the men’s 400 meter in world record time. To celebrate the achievement of South Africa’s newest sports hero, we take a closer look.
Van Niekerk set a new world record in the men’s 400 meter at 43.03 seconds, beating Olympic champions Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt.
He broke the 17-year world record held by American Michael Johnson of 43.18 seconds and the 1996 Olympic record of 43.49.
After winning the Olympic gold, Van Niekerk got a hug from Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinting legend trained alongside Van Niekerk in Jamaica a few months before Rio 2016.
Team SA earned five silver and one bronze medal before Van Niekerk 400-meter win — South Africa’s first gold medal in Brazil.
Van Niekerk made history at the Free State Championships in March by becoming the only athlete ever to run the 100 meter under 10 seconds, the 200 meter under 20 seconds and the 400 meter in under 44 seconds.
Van Niekerk was born and raised in Cape Town. He attended Grey College before studying marketing at University of the Free State.
At the 2015 IAAF World Championships, Van Niekerk won gold in the 400 meters with a personal best time of 43.48 seconds. This made him the fourth fastest person in history, and the fastest non-American. Now he’s world and Olympic champion.
Van Niekerk loves soccer. His favorite club team, Liverpool, beat Arsenal 4-3 on the eve of his historic 400-meter world record run.
Fellow Team SA athlete and 100-meter sprinter Akani Simbine is Van Niekerk’s roommate at the Olympics. They are great friends who motivate each other.
Van Niekerk uses Twitter to connect with fans. He had 10,000 followers on Twitter before the 2016 Olympics. His handle is @WaydeDreamer.
Van Niekerk’s Twitter following exploded after his amazing accomplishment in Rio, from 10,000 to over 50,000. That number continues to grow.
Van Niekerk speaks often about God’s influence in his life, the many blessings he enjoys and for his athletic talent.
Before the Rio Olympics, Van Niekerk ran the third fastest 300 meters at 31.03 seconds. Only U.S.’s Michael Johnson (30.85) and Usain Bolt (30.97) ran it faster.
Van Niekerk works with Cartoon Network and ChildLine on an international anti-bullying campaign empowering kids against bullying. Children are encouraged to “be a buddy, not a bully.”
In addition to his Olympic gold, Van Niekerk won silver in the 400m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games; bronze in the 4×400m relay at the 2013 Summer Universiade and gold in the 400m at the 2015 Athletics World Championships.