Usain Bolt Believes That Wayde Van Niekerk Deserved The Laureus Award
German motor racer Nico Rosberg was recognised ahead of South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk this week in a tight contest for the Breakthrough of the Year award at the Laureus World Sport Awards in Monaco.
Pundits and fans of sport are divided regarding whether Rosberg deserved to win it over the other nominees, but the fastest man of all time, Usain Bolt, is in no doubt as to who the recipient should have been.
Already a winner of two major awards in 2016 – the SA Sports Star of the Year and Association of National Olympic Committees (Anoc) Male Athlete of the Rio Games – Van Niekerk was also an IAAF Male Athlete of the Year finalist last year.
He had no luck on this occasion, however, with Rosberg called up on stage to collect the accolade after winning the Formula One world title in 2016.
They had been nominated in a hard-fought category which also included Ethiopian distance running star Almaz Ayana, who shattered the world 10 000m record at the Rio Games, alongside three teams – the Fiji rugby sevens squad who earned the men’s Olympic title, maiden English Premier League title winners Leicester City Football Club and European Championship football quarter-finalists Iceland.
Van Niekerk enjoyed a remarkable 2016 campaign which included the African 200m and 4x100m relay titles, the Olympic 400m gold medal in a world record time of 43.03, and a unique achievement of becoming the first man to run the 100m in under 10 (9.98), 200m in under 20 (19.94) and 400m in under 44 seconds in his career.
Usain Bolt praises Wayde van Niekerk
Jamaican sprint king Bolt is adamant that Van Niekerk, who trained with him before the Olympics, should have won the Breakthrough of the Year accolade for his incredible effort at Rio 2016.
Speaking to Sport24 at the gala event in Monaco, Bolt revealed: “If I’m honest, I would have definitely given it to him (Van Niekerk). I never thought I would see Michael Johnson’s record broken. I’ve seen many athletes try and they’ve come way short.”
“I remember the first time I saw him (Van Niekerk) run and afterwards my coach (Glen Mills) sat me down and said ‘there are only two people who can break this 400m world record’,” the athlete recalled.
“I said ‘who is that?’ and he said ‘one is you, and one is Wayde van Niekerk.’ He said it to me earlier when we had the discussion about the 400m. He said ‘you have to have the speed. If you don’t have speed, you can’t break Michael Johnson’s world record’,” Bolt added.
“Wayde has the speed and the strength and determination. Just by training with him earlier in the year you can tell that he really works hard. For me it was just brilliant to have seen him break the world record and I was really happy for him,” added the Olympic legend.